Basilique de St-Denis

sights / Religious

Basilique de St-Denis information

St-Denis , France
1 rue de la Légion d'Honneur
Getting there
Metro: Basilique de St-Denis
More information
tombs adult/senior & 18-25yr €7.50/4.50, basilica free
Opening hours
10am-6.15pm Mon-Sat, from noon Sun Apr-Sep, to 5pm Oct-Mar
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Once one of the most sacred sites in the country, this basilica was built atop the tomb of St Denis, the 3rd-century martyr and alleged 1st bishop of Paris who was beheaded by Roman priests. A popular pilgrimage site, by the sixth century it had become the royal necropolis: all but a handful of France’s kings and queens from Dagobert I (r 629–39) to Louis XVIII (r 1814–24) were buried here (today it holds the remains of 42 kings and 32 queens).

The single-towered basilica, begun around 1136, was the first major structure in France to be built in the Gothic style, serving as a model for other 12th-century French cathedrals, including the one at Chartres. Features illustrating the transition from Romanesque to Gothic can be seen in the choir and double ambulatory, which are adorned with a number of 12th-century stained-glass windows.

The tombs in the crypt – Europe’s largest collection of funerary art – are the real reason to make the trip out here, however. Adorned with gisants (recumbent figures), those made after 1285 were carved from death masks and are thus fairly lifelike; earlier sculptures are depictions of how earlier rulers might have looked.