"A Trip to Saint-Denis-Not for Beginning Sightseers" Top 5 Page for this destination Saint-Denis by hquittner

Saint-Denis Travel Guide: 98 reviews and 330 photos

Why Visit St.-Denis?

St.-Denis (pop. over 100K) is one of the seediest of the “banlieu” of Paris and is so close to town that there is a Metro stop (line 13) and an RER as well. There is an abbey adjacent to the church and two museums of interest but the real attraction is the Basilica of St.-Denis (Michelin guides have labeled it a 2 or 3* destination). If you are an architecture buff, it is 5*. The nave was redone a century after Suger by Pierre de Montreuil (it is believed) and is the first church done in the Rayonnant Gothic style. The lower ambulatory, Abbot Suger’s expression of the prototype for Gothic window treatment , cited in every textbook, is intact but remaining stained glass in them is hard to find (Some pieces are in the Cluny Museum). But the main reason for visiting are the royal tombs and effigies. (Several tombs are masterpieces of Renaissance sculpture).

The Restoration of the Basilica

It is important to emphasize that the church is a restoration and that the survival of the remains that are its basis is sheer luck. The tombs were saved by Alexandre Lenoir who sequestered them, as well as other great sculptures from all over Paris, in the Beaux Arts School during the Revolution. The ego of Napoleon and a recognition of France’s artistic heritage lead to poor attempts to restore the mausoleum. It took the genius of Viollet-le-Duc to make the government understand its true value and empower him to “scientifically” restore (1847-79) the basilica. So what is here is a small example of one of his textbooks on architecture (there are many others such as Carcasonne and Pierrefonds). He got his first commission to restore old Gothic churches when his predecessor botched the rebuilding of the South Tower. By studying the old documents he recognized the forgotten architectural genius of the Gothic period and rehabilitated Gothic architecture and its buildings.

Even the Old Doors Are Preserved

Fine old doors are often missing from old churches; see this one.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:For Adventurous Seekers for Art & Architecture
  • Cons:Only if You Have the Background
  • In a nutshell:Good for church-hoppers
  • Last visit to Saint-Denis: Jun 1992
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (13)

Comments (1)

  • MM212's Profile Photo
    Dec 5, 2010 at 4:54 PM

    I've just returned from a visit to the great Basilique Saint Denis. Your page has excellent information, particularly on the art of it all. Cheers from NYC!


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