Saint Denis (Dionysius in Latin) was a Bishop who was martyred at Montmartre (The Hill of Martyrs) in the 3rd Century AD. The legend is that he picked up his head and walked about 10km to the north and was buried in an early church below where now stands the great Basilica of St Denis. You can see him, the patron saint of Paris, flanked by two angels on the great west portal of Notre Dame. Above the tomb of St Denis developed the first great Gothic Cathedral, built by the remarkable Abbot Suger between 1130 and 1140- and the inspiration for the later cathedrals of Notre Dame, Chartres, Canterbury (1174) and York (1250). One of Suger's innovations was the Chevet- a raised area above and behind the High Altar, and from here you can see one of the windows which shows him prostrate at the feet of the Virgin Mary. St Denis became the burial place for the Kings of France from its earliest days. One of these was Dagobert (603-639) who having lived a life of very doubtful morality, hoped by being laid to rest close to St Denis, nevertheless to get to heaven! Around 1250 a wonderful monument was built to him. The devils try to drag Dagobert's naked soul to hell, but in the nick of time, St Denis comes to the rescue and leads Dagobert upwards to Paradise! The theme of royal nudity is maintained on many of the tomb effigies- even the splendid Francis 1st (of the Field of the Cloth of Gold), is portrayed as naked as he was born, with but a wisp of stone cloth to preserve the royal modesty. This is a truly wonderful place, and your visit is much enriched by the excellent Audio Guide. The quickest way to get there is on the fast RER Line D which runs through Chatelet-Les Halles and Gard du Nord and get off at Gare St Denis and then take the tram for 3 stops to Basilique de St Denis.
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