Today in Catholic History – The completion and dedication of the Basilica of Saint Denis

On 11 June 1144, the Basilica of Saint Denis was completed and dedicated by Abbot Sugar in an area now part of Paris. The Basilica would become an important place of pilgrimage, the burial place of the French kings and the model of Gothic architecture in Northern Europe.

Saint Denis is the patron saint of France and, according to French tradition, was the first bishop of Paris. As such, his shrine at the Basilica of Saint Denis was a popular place for Catholics to visit.

Another reason for visiting the Basilica was to see the first major example of the “French Style” (Opus Francigenum) as it was known before it was more commonly called Gothic. Many of the memorable characteristics of the Basilica such as the Rose Window, the radiating chapels, and the flying buttresses had been used in Romesque style architecture before but Abbot Sugar was the first to pull these architectural characteristics all together. His placement of the Rose Window will be imitated in the construction of other French basilicas such as the Basilica of Chartres.

All but three of the French monarchs from the 10th century to 1789 are buried at the Basilica of Saint Denis. These monarchs were buried tombs containing effigies or images of the former king or queen contained in the tomb. Unfortunately, during the French Revolution the bodies of these monarchs were all removed from their tombs and buried in a common grave and after the revolution it was impossible to separate one body from another. Thus, the bodies of the French monarchs up to the French Revolution are now buried in a common ossuary. Fortunately, the effigies were preserved.

The art and architecture of Saint Denis


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