Basilica of St. Denis

Seine-Saint-Denis, France

The Basilica of Saint Denis is a large medieval abbey church in a northern suburb of Paris. The building is of unique importance historically and architecturally, as its choir completed in 1144 is considered to be the first Gothic church. The site originated as a Gallo-Roman cemetery in late Roman times. The archeological remains still lie beneath the cathedral; the people buried there seem to have had a faith that was a mix of Christian and pre-Christian beliefs and practices. Around 475 St. Genevieve purchased some land and built Saint-Denys de la Chapelle. In 636 on the orders of Dagobert I the relics of Saint Denis, a patron saint of France, were reinterred in the basilica.

The basilica became a place of pilgrimage and the burial place of the French kings, with nearly every king from the 10th to the 18th centuries being buried there, as well as many from previous centuries. Saint-Denis soon became the abbey church of a growing monastic complex.

In the 12th century the Abbot Suger rebuilt portions of the abbey church using innovative structural and decorative features. In doing so, he is said to have created the first truly Gothic building. Before the term 'Gothic' came into common use, it was known as the 'French Style' (Opus Francigenum). The basilica"s 13th-century nave is also the prototype for the Rayonnant Gothic style, and provided an architectural model for cathedrals and abbeys of northern France, England and other countries.

As it now stands, the church is a large cruciform building of 'basilica' form; that is, it has a central nave with lower aisles and clerestory windows. It has an additional aisle on the northern side formed of a row of chapels. The west front has three portals, a rose window and one tower, on the southern side. The eastern end, which is built over a crypt, is apsidal, surrounded by an ambulatory and a chevet of nine radiating chapels. The basilica retains stained glass of many periods (although most of the panels from Suger"s time have been removed for long-term conservation and replaced with photographic transparencies), including exceptional modern glass, and a set of twelve misericords.

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Details

Founded: 12th century
Category: Religious sites in France
Historical period: Birth of Capetian dynasty (France)

Rating

4.6/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Liz Ernster (6 months ago)
The cathedral itself was less inspiring than I expected, but the staff at the crypt were extremely pleasant & helpful. Word of warning, if you take the Metro to Basilique Saint-Denis get there, the signage directing visitors to the cathedral is incredibly poor. It's immediately to the left as you look at the place coming out of the Metro.
Ricardo Medina Fernández (8 months ago)
Amazing monument, both the audio guide and the guided tour are super worth the time. Beautiful and impressive!
Allen Keeler (9 months ago)
These windows are in every art history book I have ever read. Magnificent! The sunny was shining and tossing those colors around the church. The history of French architecture, engineering, art and political history is all here. GO!
Alan Garzón (11 months ago)
Great building with a lot of history. Great sculptures and a really nice opportunity to learn about the history of France. I totally recommend it, after the visit you can go to the marche de Saint Denis which is located just a few meters away.
Aidas Mik (12 months ago)
Interesting church with it's rich history. It was really nice to hear great English language at the tickets counter
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