Sunday, September 06, 2015

Basilique de Saint-Denis

Yesterday I went to the Basilica of Saint-Denis on the outskirts of Paris.
Ina Caro gives it a big chapter in her PARIS TO THE PAST. She suggests you see St.-Denis before visiting any other Gothic cathedral in France and rightly so.
Catch Metro 13 at Saint-Lazare. About 20+ minutes later get off at stop Basilique de Saint-Denis. Caro mentions 'hold on to your purse' and so do others. Frankly I think this is an exaggeration. St. Denis is a working class, blue collar community not so different from where I lived previously in the 19th arrondissement. I really doubt petty crime is prevalent here. This is not the Eiffel tower. So don't be scared off from visiting one of the most magnificent cathedrals/monuments in Europe. The church is about a 2-minute walk from the Metro through a modern shopping complex. Make sure Carrefour supermarket is on your left. Soon you will enter a large square with the cathedral on your left. Voila.
From the outside St. Denis is not all that impressive. But one step inside and you gasp.
The space is awe inspiring.
It's a pure, clear space with no deviations like Chartres, which you navigate in a circular route.
Notre Dame or Reims didn't effect me like Saint-Denis..
'The Gothic structure that stands today was begun in 1136 by Abbot Suger and not completed until the end of the 13th century. The church is an architectural landmark...considered to be the first major structure built in the Gothic style. The Abbey of Saint Denis was the burial site of the kings of France for centuries and has thus been referred to as the "royal necropolis of France." All but 3 of the monarchs of France from the 10th century until 1789 have their remains here'.
FYI Saint Denis is the patron saint of France and, according to legend, the first bishop of Paris. A simple shrine was originally erected at his burial place. Much more information HERE.
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You leave the main area to enter the necropolis behind the partition
A model of the cathedral and abbey in the old town of Saint Denis.
I recommend getting the excellent audio guide to tour the tombs.
'A funerary statue is a recumbent effigy of life-size statue sculptures dressed in their daily costume lying supine. It literally means “lying in repose”. Out of the 16 recumbent effigies commissioned by Saint Louis, 14 funerary statues remain today to demonstrate that the bold adventurous Philippe III, Isabel d’Aragon,Philippe VI, the stubborn Louis X and the infant king Jean 1st were all heir to the Capetian dynasty'.
Over 70 funerary recumbent statues and tombs marking the final resting places of most of France’s historical figures. All but 3 of the monarchs of France from the 10th century until 1789 have their remains here. 
Dogs representing fidelity are exposed at the foot of women on their tombs. Nevertheless here it may be taken as a representation of guide dogs in the underground realms of death. Lions are carved at the foot of men’s recumbent tombs representing bravery, strength, ferocity and valour.
Louis XVIII and Marie-Antoinette's tomb.
In the crypt there's an exhibit of royal funeral engravings to give you a sense of grandeur.
Abbot Suger ordered the first stain glass windows ever. I stand corrected. Thank you Deborah. Either Le Mans or Poitiers have the first stain glass. More cathedrals to visit! On the right the original 'Tree of Jesse' (l'arbre de Jessie). The bluish panels are being restored.
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Please add Saint-Denis to your must-visit lists. Words can't describe the experience. I can say the Taj Mahal doesn't hold a candle to St.-Denis.

30 comments:

  1. I agree that St. Denis is magnificent. I wanted to go see the final resting place of most of the monarchs of France which is why I went. The area doesn't look particularly dangerous, but I do recommend extra vigilance. I was looking at the map on my iPad outside the metro station by St Denis when it was suddenly snatched out of my hands by a thief in daylight. My husband ran after him to no avail, and it wasn't a smart thing to do.

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  2. Maureen7:59 AM

    It is definitely on my list since I read the chapter in Ms. Caro's book. I need to reread it. The story above of the snatched I pad is scary!

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    1. Look if you stand in any tourist town with obvious ipads or iphones you might as well take out a wad of bills and toss them around. There are big maps of the area in the Metro that clearly show the basilica. There are signs too. You can ask as well. My ipad has a black Kindel type cover and no one is ever interested in taking it. Haha Still I am very careful when and where I bring it out. It's a judgement call you have to make when you travel.

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  3. Our friend's car was totally stripped at the Vatican..computer..camera etc..
    the stories..are everywhere.
    I always find I have more "recueillement" in churches that are almost empty upon my visits..a crowd takes it all away for me.
    Spectacular establishments.

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    1. Anonymous1:00 PM

      Hmm a bit of a smug response. I have been going to Paris for over 45 years.. and crime does happen there.. so not sure what your point is PB... My family lives there and they are aware of it.. but you are not?? Interesting.

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  4. Thank you for this continuing series on cathedrals and churches. You give us so much and all exquisitely done. Merci, mon amie!

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    1. Thank you Suez. Its lovely to share my discoveries and delight. It's taken me a very long time to get around to these but well worth the wait

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  5. Seeing this beautiful place was on our list last April,but we didn't make it there.
    It is now at the top of the list for next Spring.

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    1. Good to hear. It does seem out of the way and then it takes just 20 minutes and you wonder why you waited. Life is like that...

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  6. St. Denis IS fabulous--I spent hours there. The sense of history is overwhelming, and as you say, it's nowhere near as crowded as the monuments in central Paris.

    I went on a Sunday and regretted not going earlier, because as I was returning to the Metro the huge weekly market was shutting down. A NYTimes correspondent has written about doing her marketing there--apparently the prices are way lower than in town, and it looked like a fascinating multicultural array.

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    1. Yes the sense of history is palpable. All the monarchs in one place. We have Napoleon the 1st to thank for restoring St.Denis to its original grandeur. During the Revolution they were hell-bent on destroying French history and tradition.

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    2. Someone said it's the biggest market in the Ile-de-France. I must go. Yes St. Denis a riveting experience. Visiting churches is much more spiritual than visiting chateaux.More engaging on a deeper emotional-spiritual level. And it has nothing to do with your own particular religion. The relationship of space and light to the scale of a human form is a phenomenal experience words can't describe.

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    3. Elaine Shiolino -Sniff Deep in a Market Like No Other - Letter From Paris - The New York Times
      http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/04/dining/sniff-deep-in-a-market-like-no-other-letter-from-paris.html?_r=0

      Tourists who do come generally arrive in tour buses and head straight to the most French of destinations, the St.-Denis Basilica. Given its historical and architectural importance, it has to be the least appreciated religious gem in the Paris area.

      Legend has it that when St. Denis, the first bishop of Paris, was decapitated near Montmartre in the third century, he picked up his head, washed it off and carried it five miles to the north before he collapsed. A shrine was built, later replaced by a soaring basilica; 43 kings (from Dagobert I to Louis XVIII), 32 queens and 63 princes and princesses were buried here.

      The basilica is undervisited, solemn and quiet, the ideal place for prayer and reflection on a Sunday morning.

      But this spot has been a center for fairs and markets since the Middle Ages, when merchants throughout Europe came to trade their fabrics, timber, leathers and live animals. And just a few hundred yards away are the noise, disorder and exuberance of a gastronomical pleasure palace.

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  7. Thank you for this wonderful post. Photos from my visit didn't turn out very well. I happened to be there, midday, Oct 16, 2012. What a surprise - there was a memorial service for Marie Antoinette with some of the best organ music I have ever heard. I'm guessing this is done each year. A perfect day to visit, but I must add that the interior of the cathedral is roped off so there will be no tourists wandering around during the service, but one is welcome to have a seat and become a part of the event. Seeing St. Denis and being there on Oct 16th was one of the highlights of that particular trip.

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    1. Thank you Harriet for the info.
      There is a free organ concert next Sunday.
      I will check into the other. It may not be an annual event...

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  8. Thanks, Carol. Your photos are lovely and certainly inspire me to schedule my next visit to Paris and to the Basilique of St Denis.

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  9. It's now at the top of my list for the next trip and it appears we should go early on Sunday and take advantage of the market. Between your recommendations, Carol, and other tidbits from various blogs, three weeks in 2017 is almost filled already.

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  10. Yasmine9:19 AM

    Thank you for this article!
    I live in Saint-Denis, and it's a pleasure to read something nice about my town :)
    The Basilique is a peaceful and so beautiful church...

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    1. Thank you Yasmine! Lovely of you to comment ;))

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  11. Carol, this post is brilliant in many ways. I will have to come back here for a more leisurely look at the very interesting text. Thank you! xo

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    1. The text is mostly not mine. The pictures are better or visiting the Wiki site for more info. Link at bottom.

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  12. Awesome Cathedral, Carol, and your photography is up to it. You do a great job of showing us the Cathedral & the Crypts.

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  13. Its so very photogenic. It would hard not to show its beauty.

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  14. Thanks for all of your wonderful photos, it's on my to do list... And I'll try and get there soon.

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  15. Hi Carol,
    Glad my recommendation about Ina Caro's audio book was so helpful! it's necessary to take the usual precautions in Paris and the banlieue, as one would in any large city. I'll be in France next month and I'm taking lots of notes from your posts. Thanks so much

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    1. And how Joan. Chnged my life you coukd say.
      I may even convert. My sister would have a fit...reason enough, but I'm loving the atmosphere in churches...very special.

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  16. I visited the cathedral on my last trip to Paris and can recommend the audio tour in English which is one of the best I've ever heard. After our visit we wandered around St. Denis and had lunch in one of the cafes--it was a delightful day.

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    1. I was surprised how good it was. One never knows with audio tapes..addictive that one.

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