Denis of Paris, St.
DENIS OF PARIS, ST.
Alleged to have been the first bishop of Paris, a martyr and patron of France. He owes his great popularity to a series of legends connecting him with SS. Eleutherius and Rusticus (Mart. Hier. 203 and 548), with pseudo-dionysius, and with the founding of the great abbey church of St. Denis. gregory of tours (Hist. Francorum 1.30) calls him the first bishop of Paris, and the Episcopal List (published by L. Duchesne, Listes Episcopaux 2. 469) begins with a St. Dionysius (Denis). The best hypothesis contends that Denis was sent to Gaul from Rome in the third century and that he was beheaded in the Valerian persecution of 258. Excavations beneath the abbey church at St. Denis, conducted in 1957 by E. Salin, indicate that he was buried in a pagan cemetery. A ninth century Passio describes the legend of his beheading on Montmartre (the mountain of martyrs) in Paris, after which he carried his head to a village (Vicus Catulliacus) northeast of the city, where the great cult of St. Denis began. The cult is first mentioned in the Vita of St. geneviÈve (c. 500), based on an ancient Passio; she built a basilica over the saint's tomb. Venantius Fortunatus speaks of a basilica built in Bordeaux by Bishop Amelius toward 520 in honor of the great saint of Paris (Carm. 8.3, v. 159). In 624 King Dagobert founded an abbey next to the Basilica of St. Denis; and Abbot Hilduin in 827 translated the works of Pseudo-Dionysius sent to King Louis the Pious by the Byzantine Emperor Michael II, identifying the Parisian patron with the Athenian disciple of St. Paul to whom these books of mystical theology were attributed. In the ninth century anastasi us the papal librarian accepted this legend and the Roman Breviary lessons still reflect the legendary Vita of St. Denis composed by Hilduin, which eventually, though not without the resistance of scholars, found its way into the Greek synaxaries and the Church's hagiographic tradition.
Feast: Oct. 9.
Bibliography: r. aubert, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillart et al. (Paris 1912–) 14:263–265. s. le nain de tillemont, Mémoires pour serviv à l'histoire ecclésiastique des six premiers siècles, 16 v. (Paris 1693–1712) 4:442–451. i. bÄhr, Saint Denis und seine Vita im Spiegel der Bildüberlieferung der französischen Kunst des Mittelalters (Worms 1984). h. delehaye, Les Origines du culte des martyrs (2d ed. Brussels 1933). a. kraus, Die translatio S. Dionysii Areopagitae von St. Emmeram in Regensburg (Munich 1971). r. j. loenertz, "La Légende Parisienne de S. Denys l'Aréopagite," Analecta Bollandiana 69 (1951) 217–237. a. butler, The Lives of the Saints, rev. ed. h. thurston and d. attwater, 4 v. (New York 1956) 4:67–68.
[e. g. ryan]