Saint Denis Basilica
Saint Denis is a patron saint of France and, according to legend, was the first bishop of Paris. A simple shrine was erected at his burial place. There Dagobert I, king of the Franks, who reigned from 628 to 637, founded the Abbey of Saint Denis, attached to a Benedictine monastery.
The church is an architectural landmark, part of which is considered to be the first major structure built in the Gothic style. Saint Denis' Gothic structure that you see now was begun in 1136 by the Abbot Suger (1081 - 1155), but the major construction was not completed until the end of the 13th century.
The abbey is where the kings of France were buried for centuries and is therefore often referred to as the "royal necropolis of France". All but three of the monarchs of France from the 10th century until 1789 have their remains here. The abbey church contains some fine examples of cadaver tombs. The effigies of many of the kings and queens are on their tombs, but during the French Revolution, these tombs were opened by workers under orders from revolutionary officials. The bodies were removed and dumped in two large pits nearby. Archaeologist Alexandre Lenoir, saved many of the monuments from the same 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 first exile to Elba, the Bourbons briefly returned to power. They ordered a search for the corpses of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, which were found on January 21, 1815 and brought to St. Denis and buried in the crypt. In 1817, the mass-graves containing all the other remains were opened but it was impossible to distinguish any one from the collection of bones. As such, the remains were placed in an ossuary in St. Denis' crypt, behind two marble plates with the name of each monarch duly recorded.
King Louis XVIII, on his death in 1824, was buried in the center of the crypt, near the graves of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Under the direction of architect Viollet-le-Duc, famous for his work on Notre-Dame de Paris, the monuments that were taken to the Museum of French Monuments were returned to the church. The corpse of King Louis VII, who had been buried at the Abbey at Saint-Pont and whose tomb had not been touched by the revolutionaries, was brought to St. Denis and buried in the crypt.
Some of the members of the royal families of France buried in the Saint Denis Basilica are:
- Childebert I (496-558)
- Fredegonde (Wife of Chilperic I of Neustria)
- Clovis -- (465 - 511)
- Dagobert I (603-639)
- Clovis II (635-657)
- Charles Martel
- Carloman (866-884)
- Pepin III(714-768) & with his wife Berthe (726 - 783)
- Francis I of France
- Francis II of France
- Henry II of France & Catherine de Medici
- Louis XVI of France & Marie Antoinette
For a more detailed list of other members of the French Royal families buried in Saint Denis Basilica see: