The Open Door Web Site
Living History Project
THE LIVING HISTORY PROJECT
Guided Tour of the Basilica of Saint Denis
Brief history of the basilica
Legend: France's patron saint Denis was sent to convert the inhabitants of Paris to christianity but he was beheaded by the Romans on the hill at Montmartre. After he was decapitated he picked up his head and carried it 4 miles. Later King Dagobert founded an abbey on the site of his tomb in the 7th century.
Abbot Suger is the one who rebuilt the basilica. He was running the country whilst the king Louis VII was off fighting in the crusades. The basilica (church) was constructed around what was already there - including the chapel that had been built over the saint's grave in the 5th century.
Why is it so famous?
Almost every French king since 996 A.D. has been buried there. The dead have been honoured with sculptures made out of marble. Inside we can see these sculptures which were made between the 12th and the 16th centuries. These became more and more extravagant as time went on - they should look out for the tomb of Henry II and Catherine de Medicis. There is nothing in these tombs however, as they were ransacked and the bones thrown away during the French revolution by the mob.
The design as it is the first example of a church with gothic elements. The students should look out for the following:
Suger's church transformed western architecture. Gothic elements can best be seen in the chancel and ambulatory with its famous stained glass windows.
Looking at the outside
Gothic architecture was the derogatory name given to this type of architecture by those in the renaissance period. It began in France in 12th century and spread throughout Europe. At St Denis we see the beginning of gothic architecture, although it still has romanesque elements.
Gothic elements to look out for on the outside
The rose window. First example of a rose window in gothic architecture. 2 towers - note that the north tower is gone as it was taken down in 1847. Very tall building :going up to heaven.
Entrance : central portal above west facade there are decorations either side of the door. These show scenes from the Last Judgement
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