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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User Reviews

Alison Goodwin (2 years ago)
I have no words ... I was overwhelmed by the aura upon entering. We did the English tour and learned so much. It is late in the evening now and I am still looking back on the beauty, awe, eeriness and sadness. I am so blessed to have visited this Basilica in my lifetime. For those who have a heart, love history or are researching ancestors (my reason) you must visit. xx.
Stéphane Morel (2 years ago)
This basilica is partly free to access and a particularly beautiful example of gothic art. It contains the necropolis of French Kings and Queens that can be visited, but you'll have to pay the entrance (it's free if you're under 26 and from UE). You will see the many gorgeous recumbent statues and royal vaults. It's definitely a historical place you want to visit, and more especially as it's easily accessible with subway line 13 at station "Basilique de Saint-Denis".
Andrew Hess (2 years ago)
Awe inspiring, my favorite place I've been to while in Paris. Must see to appreciate!
Luthe Tucker (3 years ago)
Saint-Denis is much less touristy than its cousin Notre-Dame, but the stained glass is nearly as good and the history is more interesting. I would advise getting the audio guide though because most of the written explanations are in French. I think I missed about 90% of the information because I didn't understand what it meant.
maureen weaver (3 years ago)
A hidden gem. This is the resting place of the kings of France as well as Marie Antoinette. Although a little way out from the sites in the centre of Paris, it is well worth a visit, the Metro takes you to within 2 minutes walk to the Basilica. The stained glass windows reflect the most beautiful coloured light, giving a sense of peace and restfulness. It has a rightful place amongst the other great cathedrals of Paris.
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