Basilica Cathedral Of St Denis Paris

Jan Leeming

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Me looking brave before taking to the air (and the wing) of the plane. Wow, it was cold !! But the whole experience was totally exhilarating.

 

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Jan's Blog

Computers and the internet are amazing things. One of my concerns with putting together this site was that it could remain current, yet with all my travelling I've often much to say, but little time to say it. Years ago when reading the news it would take me days on end to reply to the kind letters people sent. Now, with the magic of the modern age, I can keep you up to date with what I'm doing and other events in my life.

BASILICA CATHEDRAL OF ST. DENIS - PARIS

Date: 7th May 2011

BASILICA DE SAINT DENIS

It was only after a friend at Cantebury Cathedral told me about Saint Denis - the Necropolis of French Royalty - that I added it to the itinerary. I felt quite brave taking a long journey on the Paris Metro - St. Denis is at the end of the line. I'd had lunch with two charming people at Le Cercle des Armees (The equivalent of an All Services Club) - a fabulous building near Saint Lazare. I was introduced by email to Col. Antoine whilst I was trying to establish a link with the family of Rene Mouchotte (my sponsored pilot). Col. Antoine's wife is now writing a book about the WAAF and I was able to give her a small amount of help so, on hearing that I would be in Paris, they invited me to meet them. We had a very animated lunch and they were kind enough to drop me off at the Metro.

My friends, Owen and Mireille, met me at St. Denis as they'd not visited the Basilica for a very long time. (We all do it don't we - ignore places of interest on our doorstep because they are just there and we usually only bother to visit when we actually have visitors). The Basilica itself, though imposing, is nothing like other great churches BUT when you go inside, apart from some very beautiful and very old stained glass, there are rows upon rows of tombs of the Kings and Queens of France. The guide book names 72 plus 11 Royal Caskets.

The Abbey of St Denis (patron saint of France) was the burial site of the Kings of France for centuries. All but three of the monarchs from the 10th Century until 1789 have their remains there. During the French Revolution, the tombs were opened by order from the revolutionary officials and the bodies removed and dumped into two large pits. Fortunately for us, an archeologist (Alexandre Lenoir) saved many of the monuments from the revolutionary officials by claiming them as artworks for his Museum of French Monuments. Napoleon Bonaparte reopened the church in 1806 but the royal remains were left in their mass graves. Following Napoleon's exile to Elba, the Bourbons briefly returned to power. They ordered a search for the corpses of Louis XV1 and Marie Antoinette which were found on January 21 1815 and brought to St. Denis for burial in the crypt. Later the mass graves were opened but it was impossible to distinguish any one from the collection of bones so they were placed in an ossuary in the crypt behind two marble plates bearing the names of each monarch.

I cannot begin to describe the monuments - some are just simple effigies, others are massive and elaborate. One example is the tomb of Francois 1 and Claude of France which has been designed like a triumphal arch with effigies of the couple and their children sitting on top of the monument whilst underneath are the cadaver representations which, I suppose was to remind us all that whoever and whatever we are, we all end up the same way, stripped of everything. When I get back to England I will post a few photos for you but I'm sure you'd find much information on the internet. There was some very interesting stained glass and Bishop Suger featured on several panels. It was under his 'reign' (12th Century) that the Cathedral prospered and it was he who had the Chevet (very large Apse) constructed. I still find it difficult to think that he should have been so involved in beautifying a church and yet have been barbaric enough to order the castration of Abelard who had married his ward Eloise secretly and against his wishes. (He had hoped to make an advantageous (to him) marriage for her and by marrying Abelard she was 'spoiled goods'.

The Rose window on the North Side of the Transept is stunning - mauve, purple, blue and rose and was restored in the 19th Century. Unfortunately, as in Canterbury, the South Transept Window is under repair. I could go on at greater length, but if you wish to know more find out from the Internet or better still, take a break in Paris and visit this amazing Basilica.

I hope you enjoy reading my little journal - until next time, take care, Jan.

BASILICA CATHEDRAL OF ST. DENIS - PARIS

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