Localisation
Open hours

Closures for regular religious services and online ticket purchase are mandatory, see the "Schedules" section of the "How to visit Covid-19" page.

E-billetting is currently not available for this monument.

Exceptional closing
The basilica is closed on the occasion of certain religious services.

Opening hours
From October 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021: Monday-Saturday, 10am-5:15pm; Sunday, 12pm-5:15pm.
Exceptional opening

  • Easter
  • Easter Monday
  • Ascension Day
  • May 8th
  • Pentecost
  • Pentecost Monday
  • July 14th
  • August 15th
  • November 1st
  • November 11th
Access
  • Métro - Line 13 - Station Basilique de Saint-Denis
  • RER - Line D - Station Saint-Denis
  • Bus - 153, 239, 253
  • Offer adapted to people with disabilities
Address

Basilique cathédrale de Saint-Denis
Place de la Légion d'Honneur
Saint-Denis, 93200
France

Coordinates Latitude Longitude
Sexagesimal (°, ', ") 48° 56′ 08″ N 2° 21′ 35″ E
Degré décimal (GPS) 48.93666 2.35938
Reservation

Rates and conditions

Free visit

  • Full price, 9€50;
  • Pass Marie-Antoinette at 26€ (access included to the Château de Rambouillet, the Conciergerie, the Chapelle Expiatoire and the Cathedral Basilica of Saint-Denis)

Group visit

  • Group rate, 7€50;
  • Visits in French every day on reservation by mail at : reservations.basilique@monuments-nationaux.fr.

Free

  • Free entrance on the 1st Sunday of the month, from November 1st to March 31st.
  • Free for people under 26 years of age who are nationals of the European Union or legal residents of the European Union, and for teachers of 1st and 2nd degree.
  • Free for disabled visitors and their companions, job seekers and recipients of minimum social benefits.

Free for children and young people under 18 years old

Description complète

Saint-Denis Basilica was classified as a Historic Monument in 1862 and 1926, and raised to the rank of cathedral in 1966.

Saint-Denis Basilica: how did it become the necropolis of the kings of France?

The starting point is the former abbey, the first building erected on the tomb of Saint Denis, a missionary bishop who died under the yoke of Roman authority. It was in the second half of the 3rd century. The former royal abbey of Saint-Denis is then associated with the history of the world of the French kings, who gave their name to France. It has illuminated centuries during the artistic, political and spiritual history of the "Monde franc". Queen Arégonde, wife of Clotaire I and daughter-in-law of King Clovis (founder of the Merovingian dynasty - 481 to 711), who died between 573 and 579, seems to be the first royal person to be buried there. But it is only with the kings of the Capetian family (987) that the church of Saint Denis asserts itself as a royal necropolis, even if several Merovingian and then Carolingian kings had chosen to rest there before them.

Burial of the kings of France in the Saint-Denis Basilica

After the Merovingians succeeded one another on the throne of France, the Carolingians from 751 to 987, then the Capetians from 987 to 1328, followed by their cousins Valois from 1328 to 1589, then their cousins Valois to finish with the Bourbons from 1589 to 1792 and 1815 to 1830.

Forty-two kings, thirty-two queens, sixty-three princes and princesses, ten greats of the kingdom rested in the Basilica of Saint-Denis (well, not quite, because the Revolution of 1789 passed through there - see below). With more than seventy monumental recumbent and tombstones, the Royal Necropolis of the Basilica stands today as the most important ensemble of funerary sculpture from the twelfth to the sixteenth century in Europe.

However, some kings escaped from Saint Denis for political, religious or personal reasons, such as Philip 1st in 1108, Louis VII in 1180, Louis XI in 1483, Charles X in 1836 and Louis-Philippe in 1850. They will be buried in other places.  The same is true for Napoleon 1st, who is buried at the Invalides in Paris, and Napoleon III in the chapel of Saint-Michel Abbey in Farnborough, south of London. They reigned as Emperors from 1804 to 1818 and 1852 to 1870 respectively, and both died in exile. Louis XVIII (brother of Louis XVI), who died in 1824, is the last king to rest in the basilica.

The beginning of French History in writing

The library of the monastery, at the end of the Middle Ages, is the most important library of the kingdom. The role of the abbey is to preserve, fix and spread the memory of the reigning dynasty. At the request of king Saint Louis, the monk Primate translates, for the first time in the French language, an enormous collection of texts, the first sketch of a history of France. This collection of the official chronicles of the kingdom will develop until the 15th century, under the name of Grandes Chroniques de France (Great Chronicles of France).

The so-called Saint Louis order

It is located around 1265 and consists of a series of sixteen lying down. It is the largest funerary program of the European Middle Ages. Fourteen of these original sculptures remain today. They are placed in the two arms of the transept, almost in their ancient location as attested by 18th century engravings.  They were intended to receive the remains of the sixteen sovereigns, who were buried between the 7th and 12th centuries. Through this grandiose staging, Louis IX (Saint Louis) elaborated the myth of monarchical continuity between Merovingians, Carolingians and Capetians and aspired to link his family to the most impressive figure of medieval monarchical ideology, Charlemagne. Saint Louis is also the king at the origin of the construction of the Sainte Chapelle in the center of Paris.
This ensemble was completed, around 1280, by the erection of a sumptuous goldsmith's tomb in honor of Saint Louis, "the most beautiful tomb in the world" according to his chronicler, William of Nangis. It was destroyed, along with the other goldsmith's tombs, during the Hundred Years War (1337 to 1453).

What is a lying down in the grave of Saint-Denis Basilica ?

In the Middle Ages, one generally carved three lying downs for the sovereigns: a lie of the bowels, a lie of the heart, and a lie of the body. The king was thus honored with three tombs. This proliferation of burials was the result of difficulties in preserving the bodies during transportation. After death, the belly of the deceased is opened and the viscera removed. Then the heart is removed. One can identify a lying heart by the presence of a small heart carved in the left hand of the figure and a lying entrails by the presence of a small bag in the hand of the figure. In Saint-Denis, the noblest of these were the lying dead, the lying dead of the body. It is in fact a real "museum of sculptures".

The problem of the conservation of the bodies

The techniques for preserving bodies were rudimentary in the Middle Ages. During transportation, it was covered with salt, herbs and wine, which was used as an antiseptic. More surprising was the custom, particularly used for Saint Louis'body, which consisted of boiling the body to separate flesh and bones. When Saint Louis (1337 to 1453) died of dysentery in Carthage (City of Tunisia, northeast of Tunis), the flesh of the holy king was buried in the cathedral of Monreale, Sicily and the bones transported to Saint-Denis. Philip III le chauve (the Bold) carried the ashes of his father on his shoulders from the north of Paris to the basilique de Saint Denis.

Before the Revolution, all the royal bodies of medieval and Renaissance rulers were buried directly beneath the carved monuments. Due to lack of space, from Henry IV on, the Bourbons kings were buried in the central part of the crypt, which was gradually converted into a vault that became the Bourbon vault. These sovereigns rested in simple lead coffins surrounded by wood.

The passage of the Revolution in the Saint-Denis Basilica

In 1793, the tombs of the Basilique Saint-Denis were desecrated. The revolutionaries threw the ashes of forty-two kings, thirty-two queens, sixty-three princes, ten servants of the kingdom, as well as thirty abbots and various religious, "between beds of lime", into mass graves in the former monks' cemetery then located north of the basilica.

Part of the basilique's treasure was transformed into money. As for the recumbents, masterpieces of funerary art dating back to the late Middle Ages for the oldest, they have largely deteriorated. Charles V the Wise lost his scepter, and that of his wife Jeanne de Bourbon has disappeared. His entrails (tomb containing the viscera) from the Celestins church in Paris was installed in its place in the nineteenth century.

Construction of the Saint-Denis Basilica

The construction of the basilica was organized, over the centuries, around the tomb of a sint, Saint Denis. The different architectures erected in these places from the 5th to the 13th century, the Carolingian church, the Suger basilica and the immense vessel of Saint Louis, are all considered to be innovative masterpieces of their time. The 28 meters high vaulted ceilings seem much more so. As early as 1231, King Saint Louis participated financially in the reconstruction of the abbey church, a major work of 13th century Gothic art. Completed in 1281, the work lasted less than fifty years, a sign of the immense wealth of the abbey.  Gothic architecture, then called "French art", reached its peak in this century.

Abbot Suger and the birth of Gothic art

Abbot Suger (1081-1151), born near Saint-Denis, became an Oblate at the age of ten. Abbot of Saint-Denis, he maintained a privileged relationship with the Pope, bishops and kings, for whom he was advisor to Louis VI and Louis VII. A diplomat, Regent of France for two years at the end of his life, he died in Saint-Denis at the age, respectable in these times, of 70. This exceptional man, excellent administrator, meticulous chronicler of his work, will make Saint-Denis one of the most powerful abbeys of the kingdom, enriched by royal gifts.  Through his innovative architectural vision, he consecrated the birth in the Ile-de-France region of what Italian detractors of the Renaissance would scornfully call Gothic art. The church of Saint-Denis inaugurates the central place of light, symbol of the divine, in religious architecture. The Basilique de Saint-Denis is bathed in light thanks to an important glass roof that obeys a rigorous iconography (life of Saint Denis and the popes, lives of the kings and queens of France in the nave), which earned it the nickname "Lucerna", the lantern, until the 18th century.

Of the stained glass windows from the 12th century, only five remain in Saint-Denis, and some elements were dismantled in 1997 with a view to their restoration. They are currently replaced by photographic films.

The subjects treated are rich, complex, essentially intended for erudite monks. The major themes of the 12th century western façade, which comments on the Old Testament as a prefiguration of the New Testament. Colored glass, a very rare commodity in the Middle Ages, is magnified

The stained glass windows in the upper parts of the building are 19th century creations commissioned by the architects Debret and Viollet-le-Duc. The medieval stained-glass windows of the high windows were destroyed during the Revolution to recover lead.  The South Rose is a stone structure more than 14 m in diameter, which would have served as a model for that of Notre-Dame de Paris.

The basilica is 108 meters long, 39 meters wide, and 29 meters high.76 In order to give an impression of greater height, the master builders used, among other things, pillars formed by several engaged small columns, each corresponding to the ribs of the various arches of the vaults. The transept is 39 meters wide. The south tower rises 58 meters.

The treasury and the regalia

The basilica's treasury, a heterogeneous collection of cult objects and collectibles bequeathed by wealthy abbots or kings, was one of the most important in the Middle Ages.

At the entrance to the present-day choir was a cross nearly seven meters high on which a silver-gilt Christ was placed. During ceremonies, the chapels, now decorated with 13th-century altarpieces, were adorned with relics and precious liturgical objects, such as the vase of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Suger's eagle, or the porphyry bathtub of Charles the Bald, which are kept in the Louvre Museum. But these liturgical objects were also monetary reserves.

The "regalia", i.e. the symbols of royal power used for the coronations of kings, crowns, sceptres or hands of justice, were also deposited in the abbey's treasury.  Several exceptional pieces of this treasure, partly melted down in 1793 and under Napoleon, are today kept in the Louvre Museum, the Medal Cabinet of the National Library and in foreign museums. In the 19th century, Louis XVIII ordered new objects to be used as royal insignia during funeral ceremonies. They are displayed in a chapel of the basilica.

Some unmissable tombs in the Basilique Saint-Denis

Tomb of Dagobert.  Lying of Isabella of Aragon, wife of Philip III the Bold. Lying of Charles V. Tomb of Louis XII. Tomb of François 1st and Claude de France. Tomb of Catherine de Medici.

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Closed
Open hours today: 10:00 am - 6:15 pm
  • Monday

    10:00 am - 6:15 pm

  • Tuesday

    10:00 am - 6:15 pm

  • Wednesday

    10:00 am - 6:15 pm

  • Thursday

    10:00 am - 6:15 pm

  • Friday

    10:00 am - 6:15 pm

  • Saturday

    10:00 am - 6:15 pm

  • Sunday

    12:00 am - 6:15 pm

  • July 12, 2024 7:54 am local time

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