Cathedral Basilica of Saint Denis. Church in Paris, France

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Denis

Church in Paris, France

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Denis Photo © eatours.com

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Cathedral Basilica of Saint Denis

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Very much eclipsed by the other landmarks of Paris, and virtually unknown as a touristic attraction, the Basilica of Saint Denis is by far one of the most underrated objectives in France. Located in the suburb of Saint Denis, its functions as a mausoleum for the Kings of France, and is a symbol as what we could call the grandfather of Gothic style.

History and Architecture

Its history begins in the 7th century, when the remains of Saint Denis, the patron Saint of France, were restored to the site, supposedly according to his last wish, by Dagobert I (Wikipedia Article), who also built the basilica.

In the 12th century, after the fall of the Roman Empire, the abbeys, though still under the Pope, had greater autonomy, and Suger, the abbot of Saint Denis at the time, initiated a renovation. According to his theology of light, he wanted more light and color filling the place of worship, so he had the ambulatory enlarged by using pointed arches instead of the round ones specific to Romanesque churches. To improve stability, he added the flying buttresses and the vaulted ceilings were only a natural following of the pointed arches.

These are the characteristics of the Gothic style, which dominated European architecture until the early 16th century, and not only because of esthetics that the stability of Gothic structures is so great, especially opposing to the Romanesque, that some churches were built almost entirely out of glass, such as the Sainte-Chapelle (Wikipedia Article) cathedral. It is said that it is possible to have all the walls of a Gothic cathedral removed, and it will not crumble.

This is how Saint Denis became the first Gothic structure, and a prototype of the style, though without any connection to the name. Oddly enough, the word "Gothic" comes from the derogatory term assigned to the style by those who didn't like it, especially Italians, and compared it with something that only Goths would build. This was not the case in Paris though, where the trend expanded almost instantly. Soon, every abbey wanted their own Gothic cathedral, and this is how the construction of eight new cathedrals was begun over a span of 35 years, among which includes Notre-Dame de Paris.

The basilica originally had two towers. The taller one, from the north side, was ravaged by lightning storms twice in an interval of three years. Because of this, the tower was disassembled and its material stored behind the basilica. Currently, a project of restoring it is underway.

Visiting

The basilica is known as the “Royal Necropolis of France”, and with good reason. Since the 10th century, almost all the kings of France (with the exception of three) have been buried here, and many more from previous centuries. The kings from the Bourbon dynasty, the last dynasty of France, are all buried here, including Louis XIV (Wikipedia Article). The tombs are scattered all throughout the cathedral, some with impetuous tombstone sculptures, as well as in the crypt, where the mummified heart of Louis XVII is also displayed.

The visiting hours for summertime (April to September) are from 10 AM to 6:15 PM daily, and 12 PM to 6:15 PM on Sundays; for wintertime (October to March) the schedule is 10 AM to 5:15 PM on weekdays, and from 12 PM to 5:15 PM on Sundays. The last visit begins 30 minutes before closing time. During religious holidays, Christmas, New Year and the 1st of May, the cathedral is closed to all visitors.

The price of a ticket is €7 ($8.05), with gratuity for minors in the company of adults, unemployed people, the press, and disabled persons. Groups larger than 20 benefit from a €2 ($1.96) discount per person, and people under 25 and teachers have a €3 ($2.88) discount. Audio guides are also available.

How to Get There

Basilica Saint Denis is located in the Saint Denis district, some 9 kilometers from the city center. It is easily reachable by subway on the M13 line - the station bears the same name. By car, take the A1 and exit at the Saint Denis center. There is a parking lot near the cathedral.

Other Attractions

If you visited the Basilica of Saint Denis, you probably like history, so the Palace of Versailles and the Palace of Fontainebleau (Wikipedia Article) are a must-see. This is where Louis XIV used to throw his lavish parties, weave his intrigues, and go hunting in the surrounding woods. In Paris, The Louvre and the Notre-Dame cathedral are centrally located, and the latter will surely impress if you like the basilica, while the Eiffel Tower will grant a panoramic view across the whole city, and a rest after an evening walk along the Seine. Speaking of the Seine, there are many restaurant-boats that offer nightly tours around Île de la Cité, timed perfectly so as to pass by the Eiffel Tower when its light show begins.

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Author: aelumag. Last updated: Sep 10, 2014

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