Monday, February 21, 2005

About St. Denis

St. Denis holding his head
I remember being intrigued several years ago by a headless statue (holding his head -- third from the left in the image above) on the façade of Notre Dame cathedral. Someone told me it represented Saint Denis (which is a lot of fun to say in French: san-duh-nee).

I finally read about him today in Seven Ages of Paris by Alistair Horne (excellent so far, by the way). At 90 years old (this was the 3rd century A.D.) he was arrested for denying the divinity of the emperor. He was decapitated but then picked up his head, washed it off, and continued walking for six thousand paces. The place of his execution became the "Mons Martyrum" -- or Montmartre -- now home to some great music shops, street artists, Sacré Coeur basilica, Moulin Rouge, and some other shops that probably wouldn't make a saint very proud.

The spot where he finally died (after the six thousand paces) became a holy spot and eventually home to the cathedral of Saint-Denis. Several French kings were buried there, beginning with King Dagobert (about whom I definitely need to learn something so I can start dropping his name).


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