Dagobert's Basilica - Saint Denis
The name and fame of the cathedral are derived from the abbey founded by Dagobert on the spot where, according to tradition, Saint-Denis halted his fateful march, from the summit of Montmartre, and was interred.
The epoch of the founder of Christianity in Paris is uncertain; ecclesiastical historians hesitate between the Ist, Ilnd, and even the IVth centuries. His origin is unknown, even, according to the sceptics, mythical. Whether he was Denis Areopagite, converted in Athens by the preaching of Saint Paul, commissioned to announce the doctrine of Christ to the Parisians, or whether he was another person of the same name sent to the Gauls about the middle of the IIIrd century and put to death during the persecution ordered by Decius has not been decided.
His history is written in monuments and popular traditions, and this history asserts and constantly reiterates that the founder and first bishop of the church of Paris was called Denis, that he was assisted in his apostolic work by the priest Rustique, and the deacon Eleuthere, and that all three sealed their accomplished mission with their blood.
Not two centuries ago there was still shown at Notre-Dame-des-Champs, at that time remote from the walls of Paris, a crypt where Saint Denis called together the first of the faithful; at Saint-Benoit a chapel built on the site of an oratory where Saint-Denis had first invoked the name of the Trinity; at Saint-Denis-de-la-Chartre, the prison where Christ came himself to fortify the confessors by administering his body and blood; at Saint-Denis-du-Pas the place where the trio suffered the first tortures; and finally the summit of Montmartre where their heads fell under the sword.
" The holy bishop Denis, and his two companions," wrote Hilduin, abbot of Saint-Denis in the IXth century, " suffered their glorious martyrdom within view of the city of the Parisians, upon a hill previously called Mount of Mercury, in honour of a god in particular favour amongst the Gauls, but thereafter known as Mount . of the Martyrs in memory of the saints who died there."
The origin of the church of Saint-Denis is subject to two interpretations. According to one a pious woman called Catulle, having assisted the three martyrs during their imprisonment, dared to gather up the mutilated remains and buried them in a field belonging to herself, later included in the possessions of the abbey of Saint-Denis. We know that long before the invasion of the Francs a basilica, superbly ornamented and famous for the miracles wrought there, was raised upon Catulle's field.
According to another version the early church succeeded a temple erected to Bacchus, while the story of Saint-Denis himself is a legend of pagan origin, the name Denis being indeed a derivative from the Greek name of the wine god, Dionysos.
The explanation is as ingenious as it is impious, and the author gives himself to its elaboration with a certain zest. Here it is:
It is well known that the country known under the name of the lie de France was once a grape-growing country. All the hills near the Seine were planted with vines and no department of France bore more fruit in proportion to its extent.
In such a country Bacchus was greatly respected. Per Bacco was a familiar oath and temples were raised to the god of wine and offerings made in the interest of the crops. As we know, most of the early Christian churches repose upon the ruins of temples or altars dedicated in remoter centuries to pagan deities. Notre-Dame covers the foundation of an altar raised to a nautical divinity, Saint-Germain-des-Pres stands upon the site of a temple to Isis, Saint-Pierre-de-Montmartre succeeds Mercury, and Saint-Denis displaces Bacchus.
Our impious author leaves nothing unaccounted for. Rustique and Eleuthere, the companions of Saint-Denis, he figures to have been created out of the supposed legend of the temple: Dionysio Rustico Eleuthero—Dionysio Frenchified becomes Denys or Denis; Rustico, because his altar was in the country; and Eleuthero or free, one of the surnames of Bacchus.
Along comes Christianity to the Gauls and the peasants receive the new faith but hold instinctively to the old traditions of paganism, and myths become mysteries. To form an alliance between the old beliefs—vague, effaced, but persistent, was easy to a clever pious legendary. He invents a martyr, canonizes the pagan divinity, while for the legend of Saint-Denis' miraculous march from Montmartre to the site of the cathedral, this be-comes simply the glorified history of the god over-come by wine, who loses his head yet carries it with him.
Be that as it may the first edifice erected in honour of the first bishop of Paris fell into ruins in the Vth century and Sainte-Genevieve rebuilt it, while Gregoire de Tours describes the miracles worked in this temple for the cure of pilgrims and the chastisement of sinners.
The magnificence with which Dagobert rebuilt and invested the church and abbey quite casts the memory of the earliest constructions into the shade. Despite his ferocity, this last powerful Merovingien had the sentiment of art, but, as founder of religious monuments or as sovereign, his penchant for rapacity always breaks out. Thus to adorn Saint-Denis he carried off innumerable riches and ornaments from other sacred edifices, as his predecessors had done before him, contributing to the glories of the treasure his pious thefts.
In spite of all his vices Fredegonde's grandson was a popular king. It is to be presumed that, in his large way, he had qualities of the heart, and his name lives in many an old song, as le bon roi Dagobert, as well as that of his companion, Saint-Eloy, the king's artistic goldsmith, who by a set of chances as curious as those which befell the naif Koko became, as we have seen, treasurer, diplomat, bishop, founder of monasteries, saint!
From the beginning of his reign Dagobert undertook the rebuilding of the church. He deco-rated it with precious marbles, magnificent tapes-tries, bronze doors, vases of gold set with jewels. Saint-Eloy chiselled with his own hands the tomb of the martyrs and the great gold cross erected before the entrance to the choir, and, in order that so handsome a monument should have a dedication worthy of it, says tradition,
Jesus Christ himself, surrounded by a glorious company of saints and martyrs assisted at the celebration. In one of the chapels the place is still shown, upon request, where the divine cortege made entrance into the basilica of Dagobert.
After Dagobert there were restorations by Pepin and Charlemagne, restoraticns almost completely obliterated, presumably by the terrible disasters following the Norman invasion and the civil wars of Charlemagne's reign, for, during the interval between Charlemagne and Louis VII the church probably shared the fate of most of the monasteries of northern France, though no actual account has been preserved. The architecture of the central part of the crypt—its round arches and historic capitals—indicate the reconstructions of the XIth century, while of the vaunted magnificence of the church of Dagobert and the early Carlovingiens no material souvenirs remain except a few columns and marble capitals, s Landing upright against the walls of the crypt.
About the year 1091 a lad of poor parentage entered the abbey of Saint-Denis. This was Suger, destined to become in his mature years abbot of the monastery and famous as ecclesiastic, statesman, and historian. Louis VI was his pupil and he was the friend and counsellor of both Louis VI and Louis VII.
Immediately upon his appointment to the government of the abbey he put into action his long cherished ambition to rebuild the cathedral upon a scale of magnificence of which we still see in the existing church many evidences. He built rapidly the portail, the tower, the choir, the nave, and finally the lower chapels of the chevet and the apse which surmounts them. This work antedated Notre-Dame by about a quarter of a century.
Suger superintended everything—the quarrying of the stone, the choice of the woods, the design of the windows, the making of the cross and the sacred vessels, and composed the Latin couplets which described the objects of his concern. Under one of the three rows of arches above the main entrance runs an inscription recording the erection of the church by the abbe Suger, minister to Louis VI, with abbatial funds, and its consecration, in 1140. http://www.oldandsold.com/articles08/pa ... l-18.shtmlhttp://www.oldandsold.com/articles08/pa ... l-16.shtml