IT WAS SOMEWHERE AROUND the year 270 AD when Denis, a Christian missionary and Bishop of Paris, was martyred on the hill we now call Montmartre. Denis was beheaded during the period of Christian persecution under the Roman Emperors Decimus and Valerian. It is said that after his head was chopped off, Denis picked it up and walked six miles or so preaching a sermon as he went. The place where he eventually fell and died was marked by a small shrine which eventually became the Basilique Saint-Denis and the burial place of the Kings of France.
The Basilique Saint-Denis is a medieval abbey church in Saint-Denis, a northern suburb of Paris. The abbey church was created a cathedral in 1966 and is the seat of the Bishop of Saint-Denis. The building is of unique importance historically and architecturally.
In Roman times the site was a Gallo-Roman cemetery but around 475 Saint-Genevieve purchased some of the land and built a church. This became a place of pilgrimage and in the 7th century, Dagobert I had this church replaced with something grander. By the 12th century it had grown to become one of the most powerful Benedictine abbeys in France. The abbot of Saint-Denis, Suger, rebuilt portions of the abbey church using innovative structural and decorative features turning it into a masterpiece of what came to be known as Gothic art. The basilica provided an architectural model for the cathedrals and abbeys of northern France, England and other countries.
From the 6th century onwards, the Basilique Saint-Denis became the necropolis of French monarchs. Most of the kings and queens of France were buried here. The list is impressive: 42 kings, 32 queens, 63 princes and princesses and 10 great men of the realm. With I think three exceptions, all the French monarchs were buried here from Hugues Capet onwards.
Over the years, the Abbey was plunged into decline by wars and the Revolution. During the Revolution the tombs were opened and the bodies were removed and dumped in two large pits nearby and dissolved with lime. In 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte reopened the church and the royal remains were left in their mass graves. Thankfully, most of the tombs survived the Revolution and today they lie resplendently in the much-visited “Royal Necropolis of France”.
Sounds from the Necropolis:
Clovis I (465 – 511) and Childebert I (496 – 558)
Henry II and Catherine de Médicis
Charles V and Jeanne de Bourbon
The fate of King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette of Austria is well known. Both were guillotined in the Place de la Concorde during the Revolution. They were though not initially buried in the Basilique Saint-Denis, but rather in the churchyard of the Madeleine, where they were covered with quicklime. Louis XVIII, the last king of France to be buried in the Basilique Saint-Denis, ordered that the remains of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette be transferred from the Madeleine cemetery and today they lie side by side in the crypt of the Basilique Saint-Denis.
The two centre tombs: On the left is Marie-Antoinette and on the right is Louis XVI
THE EARLIEST REFERENCES to the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis date as far back as the Mérovingians, around 750 AD. The street became popular in the Middle Ages because it was the most direct route between Paris and the increasingly prestigious Abbeye de Saint-Denis, the Royal Necropolis of France.
The Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis crosses the 10th arrondissement of Paris linking the Boulevard de la Chapelle in the north and the Boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle further south. The street is called the rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis because it’s an extension of the Rue Saint-Denis to the faubourg, the area formerly outside the Paris city walls as marked today by the Porte Saint-Denis.
In September last year I produced a blog piece about the northern part of the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis from the Boulevard de la Chapelle to the Gare du Nord railway station, the area known as Little Jaffna because of the Tamil population who live and work there. You can see that blog piece here.
Having completed a soundwalk of that part of the street, I thought it was now time to complete my sonic exploration of the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis by doing a soundwalk along the remainder of the street from the Gare du Nord to Porte Saint-Denis. The street may have lost the glitter it once had when it formed part of the King’s processional route to the Basilica of Saint Denis and the accents may have changed – you’re more likely to hear Indian, Arabic or Turkish than anything else, but the street has its own character and is full of interest.
Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis – A Soundwalk: