Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Day 6 : Basilique St Denis - France's Royal Resting Grounds

North of Paris and outside of the city center is the town of Saint Denis where the Basilique St Denis stands.
St. Denis was a bishop of Paris in the third century and legend has it that he was martyred and beheaded (for all the reasons they beheaded martyrs in those days).
But the real marvelous and miraculous part of the legend is that St. Denis may have lost his head BUT he caught it in his hands and headless -- walked with his head all the way to this place -- ten kilometers away, preaching as he went.
That's a bishop for you, never one to miss a chance to do a sermon!
Today St. Denis is always depicted as a headless statue but carrying his head in his hands.

This truly astounding feat has been commemorated by building a basilica on top of the spot where he finally died.
Since the 7th century, this has been the burial place for all of France's kings, queens, princes, princesses -- the royal necropolis.
It is an early and a fine example Gothic architecture. Standing tall and proud in the town square, it sits right beside the municipal hall.
This being the holiday season, a Christmas tree and a small carousel or merry-go-round also decorate the square.

Once inside the church, you get a teaser of what lies in the royal burial grounds -- off to one side of the main nave is a chapel where you see the robes that Marie Antoinette wore before she was beheaded at the guillotine. Made of heavy brocade and be-furred and beaded, it's a wonder she was able to walk at all.

This is a view of the church interior as you enter the massive doors. The necropolis is behind the altar and is accessed via a separate entrance, off to the side of the church.

The funerary statues made of marble are so beautiful -- this one is of Charlemagne.
There are only a handful of the kings of France who are not buried here -- all told there are more than 80 cadaver tombs with these carved marble effigies.

Some of the funerary statues show animals resting at the foot of the effigies. A dog is supposed to symbolize one's guide even in the after life and the lion symbolizes the resurrected Christ -- since baby lions open their eyes only on the third day of life.

In a private chapel are the kneeling statues of King Louis XVI and his more famous better half, Marie Antoinette -- eyes cast modestly downward but wearing a revealing, low cut gown.

The marble tombs are wonderful works of art -- some are simple effigies and there are some that are very ornate.
This huge tomb is of Louis XII and his wife, Anne de Bretagne. The couple are depicted both inside, lying down and on top of the tomb, knelt in prayer. In addition, they are surrounded by the 12 apostles and the 4 virtues -- of course to help ensure their heavenly rewards.

After more than an hour in the Basilica, we are surprised to see that it is way past lunchtime.Back outside in the square, we see a typical french brasserie called Le Khedive just outside the church. It looks like a good place to stop and eat before taking the long subway ride back to Paris.

We snag a seat that allows us a view of the Basilica -- outside the window is the smoking section where people brave the chill, happily puffing away.

It may be early afternoon but I'm so ready for a cold glass of 1664 beer -- tomb viewing is thirsty work!

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