Posted by: Debra Kolkka | September 26, 2023

Marie-Antoinette lies here

Basilica St Denis stands on the site of a Gallo-Roman cemetery with the tomb of St Denis, thought to have been the first Bishop of Paris, who was martyred around 250AD. The place of pilgrimage was built in the 5th century. Dagobert was a benefactor in the 7th century and Pepin the Short was crowned king here in 754. Most of the kings and queens of France were buried here from the 6th century onwards.

In the 12th century, Suger, Abbot of Saint Denis, was an influential political figure. He turned the abbey into a masterpiece of early Gothic art. He rebuilt the structure using new architectural techniques, including the rose windiow and cross ribbed vault. More work was done in the 12th century giving the basilica its present appearance.

Work is currently being done.


The Abbey was plunged into decline by wars and the Revolution. It was restored in the 19th century, particularly by Viollet-le-Duc. It became a cathedral in 1966.

It became the preferred necropolis of the French monarchs, and each new dynasty continued this tradition in order to support its legitimacy. 42 kings, 32 queens, 63 princes and princesses and 10 great men of the realm were buried here. Napoleon I wanted to make it into an imperial necropolis.

The interior is stunning. It is difficult to believe it was built so many centuries ago.

There are some amazing items on display.

Extremely uncomfortable gloves used for the funeral of Louis XVIII.

The crown of Charlemagne used for the funeral of Louis XVIII.

Uncomfortable  head wear.

A rare colourful piece.

There are recumbent statues all around. The 2 below are Charles V and Jeane de Borbon.



Henri II and Catherine de Medici.

…and others.

There are also lots of beautiful upright sculptures.

Below the ground floor is the crypt.

Here lie the remains of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, Louise de Lorraine, Louis VII, Louis XVIII. I think Marie-Antoinette gets a bad rap in history. She was sent off at the age of 14 to marry Louis-Auguste and became queen 4 years later…poor thing, what hope did she have?

Opposite these graves was Le Caveau des Bourbons.

From the crypt we went to the upper level of the church.

Here there were statues of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette.

Opposite them is a tableau by Simon Vouet (1590-1649)


Then this.

In front of this is what looked like a ladder suspended from the ceiling.  It is an art installation by Stephen Dean, a Franco-American artist. His work conveys his fascination with colour.

From 1140 to 1144 Abbe Suger initiated an exceptional program of stained glass windows, which have just been restored in 2022. Stephen Dean’s installation, Crescendo, echoes the radiance of light in the monument. Developed by NASA for space exploration, the dichroic glass between the rings of the ladder projects and reflects different colours depending on the angle of vision.

Outside the Basilica is a wonderful building and a lively square were people were enjoying the autumn sunshine.

On the way to the Metro we spotted a completely different type of architecture.

Thank you Paul and June for suggesting a visit to Basilica St Denis, we had not heard of it. We enjoyed a walk through history in a beautiful way.




  1. Saint Denis is beautiful and also has all those interesting tombs. Your friends were right, it is worth a visit.
    I tend to agree with what you say about Marie Antoinette, she has been the victim of a black legend.

    • She was a victim of the times. I doubt the “Let them eat cake” which seems to have defined her. The church is anazing.

  2. Thank you for taking us on a tour D of Basilica St Denis.
    What an incredible structure & all the statues & sculptures just amazing. The stained glass windows are breathtaking.

    • The whole experience was amazing, I’m happy we went there.

  3. What amazing structures, beautiful windows and fascinating history – what a strange species we are capable of such beautiful and astonishing work as well as dreadful cruelty and ugliness. It would be fascinating to work on its restoration

    • I marvel that these buildings were built at all with the equipment available at the time.

  4. Thank you for the informative history and great photos. I agree with you about Marie Antoinette.

    • Yesterday we went to Versailles and saw much more of Marie-Antoinette. She lived a lavish lifestyle, but I imagine she was a prisoner with no control over her life.

  5. Yes I agree about Marie Antoinette. What a stunning basilica with so much detail to explore!

    • We were there for a couple of hours, but you could spend a week there and not see everything.

Leave a Reply