Saint-Denis Cathedral is one of the hidden treasures near Paris. The first gothic cathedral in France, it was a powerful abbey and housed the tombs of French Kings. Saint-Denis is easily reachable by metro line 13. As Notre-Dame is unfortunately closed since the fire, Saint-Denis is a very good alternative to discover the beauty of the gothic cathedrals. Paris monuments.
Saint-Denis Cathedral (also called Saint-Denis Basilica) is one of the most significant monuments of the Paris region, both historically and architecturally. We recommend you to visit this little known treasure easily reachable by metro.
Paris metro: Basilique de Saint-Denis station, line 13
Saint-Denis Cathedral was the first Gothic church ever built. It owes special significance to European history and set the style for Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, Notre-Dame in Chartres and Mont Saint-Michel. Its choir, completed in 1144, shows the first use of all of the elements of Gothic architecture. Around 475 St. Genevieve purchased some land and built Saint-Denys de la Chapelle. In 636, on the orders of King Dagobert I, the relics of Saint-Denis, a patron saint of France, were reinterred in the basilica. The basilica became a place of pilgrimage and the burial place of the French Kings with nearly every king from the 10th to the 18th centuries being buried there, as well as many from previous centuries. Saint-Denis soon became the abbey church of a growing monastic complex. In the 12th century, Abbot Suger rebuilt portions of the abbey church using innovative Gothic structural and decorative features. The abbey church became a cathedral in 1966. It is the seat of the Bishop of Saint-Denis.
Saint-Denis was the burial place of the kings and queens of France from Dagobert (639) to Louis XVIII (1824). Altogether 43 kings, 32 queens and 10 servants to the monarchy were buried there. Featuring over 70 recumbent statues and monumental tombs from the Renaissance, the cathedral contains within its walls the largest collection of funerary sculpture from the 12th to the 16th centuries.
In 1793, the revolutionaries desacrated the tombs in Saint-Denis. They opened them and took out the bodies, which were dumped in two large pits nearby. In the following years the abbey decayed, because in revolutionary France Christianity had been replaced by the Religion of Reason. When the Bourbons returned to power, they ordered a search for the corpses of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, which were found on 21 January 1815 and brought to Saint-Denis. The mass-graves were opened in 1817, but it had of course become impossible to distinguish any individuals. The remains were put in a small room in the crypt, behind two marble plates with all their names on them.
Saint-Denis will draw a lot more attention in the coming ten years. On the initiative of the City of Saint-Denis and with the agreement of the Ministry of Culture and Communication, the 86m high spire of Saint-Denis, dismantled in the nineteenth century will be rebuilt. The spectacular construction site will be visitable during the 10 year project with visits funding part of the work. The operational phase begun with the final agreement of the Ministry in March 2018.
Built at the beginning of the 13th century, the Saint-Denis spire was considered, in its time, as one of the most spectacular works of the Paris region. In the tradition of Romanesque rock arrows, it completed the construction of the western facade of the abbey, begun a few decades earlier by Father Suger. Figuring on all the old representations of the abbey, it was spared by the Wars of Religion, as by the Revolution. Following the works commissioned by Napoleon to restore the basilica, it was restored by architect François Debret, in 1837-1838. In the spring of 1846, destabilized by the tornadoes of 1842, 1843 and 1845, the spire had to be carefully dismantled to allow the consolidation of the tower which carried it. It was planned to be reassembled thereafter.
Saint-Denis is on the way from Charles de Gaulle Airport to Paris by taxi. If you can, take an hour to visit Saint-Denis. If you transit in Charles de Gaulle, you could visit Saint-Denis and be back in 3 hours.
Saint-Denis Cathedral is close to Stade de France. Take a taxi from one monument to the other. Saint-Denis is a popular town north of Paris. Staying there will be a cheap and different experience.