Basilica cathedral of Saint-Denis (February 2020)


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Located in the town of Saint-Denis, north of Paris, this basilica cathedral is best known as both the birthplace of Gothic art and the necropolis of the kings of France.


It was built in the 5th century as an abbey church. In the 7th century, Dagobert (King of the Franks) ordered the transfer of the relics of Saint Denis (a Bishop of Paris who died in 250) to the church. Pepin le Bref was crown King of the Franks in this church in the mid-8th century. In the 12th century the head of the abbey, Abbot Suger, transformed the church into what is considered to be the first Gothic building. In the 13th century, under King Louis IX of France (Saint Louis), the nave was deeply modified and the church became the de-facto French royal necropolis. Restored in the 19th century, the church was raised to the rank of cathedral in 1966.


It is the final resting place of most of the kings and queens of France (42 kings, 32 queens, 63 princes and princesses, and 10 great servants to the monarchy). The first king to be buried here was Dagobert I (603-639); the last was Louis XVIII (1755-1824), the last king of France.



The interior of the cathedral is magnificent, especially the Rayonnant Gothic choir and its canopy of stained glass windows. The ″gisants″, the lifelike carved recumbent effigies of kings and queens, sculpted with open eyes, and other tombs provide a deeply poignant overview of 1200 years of French history.


Left: west facade. Right: tympanum of the central portal of the west facade.




Tympanum of the left portal of the west facade.



North side of the church.




The grandiose nave.





Left: other view of the nave. Right: north transept seen from the exit of the crypt.




North side of the nave (left) and choir (right) seen from the south transept.




The rose of the north transept. The medieval stained glasses of the two roses (north and south transepts) were destroyed during the French Revolution. The new ones were created in the 19th century.



The spectacular canopy of stained glass windows around the choir. A few date from Abbot Suger, who remodeled the church in the 12th century.





Medieval gisants.







Left: tomb of King Dagobert. This intricate tomb was erected in the 13th century above the place where Dagobert had been buried in 639, next to the relics of Saint Denis. At the base of the tomb, the gisant of Dagobert lies on his left side looking toward the tomb of Saint Denis. The two statues standing next to the gisant depict Dagobert′s wife Nanthilde (on the left) and his son Clovis II (on the right).

Right: ″priants″ (funeral statues representing praying people) of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. They were commissioned by Louis XVIII to celebrate the transfer of the king′s and queen′s remains to Saint-Denis and completed in 1830.




Portions of tablets marking the ossuary of kings and queens from the 7th to 10th centuries in the crypt below the choir. The second column from the right in each tablet indicates the birth date and the rightmost column the age at death.




Vault containing the remains of Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, and Louis XVIII, in the crypt. The latter, the last king of France, was buried here in 1824.




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