I'm not writing about the new Marriott at Saint-Denis but a suggestion most first-time visitors (and others) often miss -- the basilica of Saint-Denis which is right at the end of the metro line. It was the first building done in the Gothic style (26 years before the bishop of Paris got the idea to do Notre-Dame in the same style). The exterior belies the magnificent interior stained glass, where Abbot Suger in 1137, on the pretext of crowd control, enlarged the older building and designed it so that the interior is bathed in jeweled light and the beholder's eye is drawn to heavenly images (or so he hoped -- and I have known many non-believers who get the point). It also was the royal abbey of France, so it is a royal necropolis. Most of the tombs are empty -- during the revolution, the bodies of dead royals and aristocrats were often put on trial and their bones burned or thrown into the Seine. But the magnificent effigies remain.
If you go the metro stop is right at the basilica; the RER stop is near the Stade de France.
I am hoping to visit this cathedral next month (you've made a believer out of me.) It looks like the stop is next to the last on the light blue line? Also, it looks like a cemetery and gardens are close by. Do you know much about these? Also, is the cathedral open every day, do you know?
Here's what I could find in terms of transportation:
Above and to the right of the cathedral is what looks like a large cemetery. I think if you click on the photo it will enlarge.
It's definitely the end of the 1 Line so it's not even far out of Paris. What you DON'T want to do is go on the RER (which would take you to the Stade de France in St-Denis and then on to the airport. You're considerably further from the basilica if you get off at the soccer stadium, and I would even have a hard time finding it from there.
But the basilica of Saint-Denis is one of the most important and missed sites of all visitors to Paris. It is the necropolis and royal abbey of the kings of France and their spouses and children and even though most were put on trial and their bones burned or thrown into the Seine during the French revolution, the sculptuary tombs remain. And even more importantly, the abbot of Saint-Denis, Bishop Suger, who served as biographer of Louis the Fat and regent for Louis VII when he went on crusade, was the first to rebuild in the Gothic style. So the outside will look disappointing, but when you get inside it is light and height -- and you'll find that Suger was one of the first medieval types to put his name all over everything. It gives you new insight into Notre-Dame which was only rebuilt after Suger's successful version of the 'French Style' (only in the Italian Renaissance did they call it Gothic and they meant it in a derogatory sense). From there, the sky was the limit and throughout the Ile-de-France (visit Amiens, Beauvais, Laon and Chartres if you can) every city tried to outdo each other in Gothic, sometimes resulting in the murder of bishops and abbots if they taxed the people too much. At Beauvais, the sky was the limit, and it fell twice, one, unfortunately for Catholics during a feast of the Virgin during the Wars of Religion.
I think my trip next week will be paid for by the documentary producers, but I will stay either at Saint-Denis or an Accor hotel when next in Paris.
Got it. I think we'll be able to find it just fine then. One more question. Open everyday? Definitely going to drag my crew out there.
When you say medieval, do you mean around 1100ad. for this church? Is that not when (or a bit later perhaps?) they started the idea of the buttresses, to keep the sky high ceilings from collapsing? Except for the murdering of clergy, good for the rest of us and those of the past to have so much man-made beauty to enjoy. You've given me a great idea for stops between Paris and Belgium (Beauvais, Amiens, Laon) by car.
Jerry, I believe you'll thoroughly enjoy Saint-Sulpice. It is impressive on the outside, but the real beauty lies within. It doesn't so much have the light thing going on that ProfChiara speaks of with regards to Saint-Denis, but the architecture and art is appreciative. Just down rue Bonaparte at Blvd Saint-Germain is the Saint-Germain-des-Prés church (you've seen it no doubt, but just in case). I thought it was charming, but really liked St-Sulpice. Also, have you visited Saint-Séverin? Not far from Notre Dame, on the left bank, off of rue du Petit Pont. Saint-Séverin was started in the 12th cent. (after the Vikings destroyed it) and most of the structures are late Gothic. A relative of King Louis XIV was responsible for the marble choir, if I remember correctly. Oh ya, has the oldest bell in Paris, I think.
I noticed last trip there were a number of beautiful churches in Le Marais (3rd. and esp. 4th Arr.), but it seemed like many weren't open. () Anyway...
ProfC, you're filming in...Toulouse?
(And St-Denis is open every day?)
Hi Jerry and Lori,
It's really amazing and I love Saint-Sévérin too. Back when I was writing about medieval preachers, I found that two of them had preached there on a regular basis.
Yes, the first Gothic churches were built in the Ile-de-France around 1130, so they are almost 900 years old. The churches in Champagne probably shouldn't even still be standing, since they used chalk as their building material. But Beauvais is the only one that suffered two serious collapses.
Also, if you want to see a medieval castle without leaving Paris, simply get on the Château de Vincennes line and go to the last stop. When you emerge you will see the castle right across the street and can visit it.
I'll be filming in Domremy, Chinon and Rouen, which should be a lot of fun!
Here is the website for Saint-Denis:
I only found the French one, but I think it is probably available in English somewhere. There was a notice about several spot closings so I would check. Normally it is only closed Christmas, New Year's and May 1 (it is not an active abbey). But there was a notice about "exceptional closings" usually later than normal on some days, so they may be doing some light and sound shows. But it's open every day of the week 10-6:15 and Sundays 12 -6:15.
Thanks, I forgot about that website. Appreciate the tip on Vincennes too. This next trip is mainly for my daughter, who has never been to Paris, so we'll be hitting the tourist highlights, but I think I can slip in a couple of extra things (of the many things) that have yet to be checked off on my wish list (like Saint-Denis and Vincennes.) Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on perspective), none in my party have yet seen Sainte-Chapelle, so we will all get to see that together for the first time.
How nice to have your trips paid for and to be able to spend all of your time on your trip nourishing your passion for medieval history!
Actually my trips are only partially paid for and that part only fairly recently. I had $80,000 in student debt out of grad school in 1990... But I really do believe you should love what you do in life. Everyone told me I couldn't or shouldn't but I knew I could survive grad school (all 9 years of it) and get a job teaching medieval history.
Both Saint-Denis and Vincennes are so easy (and fast) to get to that you can take them in easily in one day -- and if you choose also do La Sainte-Chapelle, which is also my favorite Gothic church. I probably said this somewhere in an earlier post but it was built in a few years when Louis IX came back from crusade as a giant reliquary for the Crown of Thorns. But if you're planning to do all three, a Paris Musée Pass will pay for itself pretty quickly.