Did you know that the northern suburbs of Paris contain one of the most beautiful of France's historical treasures? The Basilica of Saint-Denis houses the tombs of every French king since Dagobert, and is the most incredible royal necropolis in the world. Within the basilica, you will discover more than 1,500 years of history, featuring the tombs of no less than 43 kings and 32 queens. Their monumental tombs are arranged underneath both the Gothic vaults of the cathedral and the Romanesque vaults of the crypt.
Largely unknown to the general public, the Basilica of Saint-Denis truly deserves to be visited in the same way as the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. Often overlooked, it is the finest monumental masterpieces of Gothic art.
2 January- 31 March : Monday to Saturday, from 10 am to 5:15 pm - Sunday, from 12 pm to 5:15 pm
1 April - 30 September : Monday to Saturday, from 10 am to 6:15 pm - Sunday, from 12 pm to 6:15 pm
1 October - December 31 : Monday to Saturday, from 10 am to 5:15 pm - Sunday, from 12 pm to 5:15 pm
The history of Saint-Denis begins with the story of Denis, a Christian martyr who was decapitated in the third century. According to legend, he then walked with his head in his hands to Saint-Denis, where his tomb was located. Later on, the basilica was built around it to preserve Denis' memory. Four centuries after that, King Dagobert established the tradition for kings and queens to be buried beside Saint Denis. The thinking went that to be buried near the tomb of Saint-Denis would guarantee eternal life and entrance to paradise.
Over the centuries, idealised statues of kings and queens gave way to more realistic portraits. Real mortuary masks appeared and, in the Renaissance, tombs showing the bodies of the dead kings at the moment of their death. At the end of the eighteenth century, the revolutionaries removed the royal remains from the tombs and put them in a common grave. However, they now rest together in the basilica, including remains attributed, rightly or wrongly, as those of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and the dauphin Louis XVII.
The basilica traces more than 1,000 years of French monarchy and certainly deserves to be better known.