Saint-Denis-en-France, Abbey of
SAINT-DENIS-EN-FRANCE, ABBEY OF
One of the oldest of the Parisian abbeys, located a short distance from the city of Paris, especially noted as the repository of the tombs of French monarchs. The basilica was erected on the site where, according to tradition, the body of the martyred Bishop St. denis was buried (c. 273). The Abbot hilduin (819) gave currency to the erroneous identification of the Parisian martyr with pseudo-dionysius the Areopagite. Hilduin also reformed the abbey and is thought to have visualized Saint-Denis as a second Rome. Some have seen in this the beginnings of gallicanism. It was again reformed by odilo of cluny in 1008. The Benedictines took over the abbey in 656 and remained there until 1792.
The history of the abbey is inextricably bound up with that of the French kings, its greatest benefactors. King Dagobert I (d. 639) endowed it and aided in the reconstruction of the church. He and his successors were buried there. pepin the Short (d. 768) also began the rebuilding of parts of the structure that was completed under charlemagne. The Capetians similarly maintained close ties with the abbey. louis vi (d. 1137) adopted its standard, the Oriflamme, as the banner of the kings of France, and he chose as his principal adviser Abbot suger, who served also as administrator of the kingdom in the succeeding reign, while louis vii was absent on the Second crusade (1147–49). Under Abbot Suger, reconstruction of the basilica was begun June 9, 1140; it was he who collected and continued the chronicles of the abbey. In the 13th-century reconstruction under its architect, Pierre de Montereau, the abbey took on the characteristic features of the Gothic style, for which it became noted. louis ix (d. 1270) treasured the abbey for this reason as one of the most precious of French monuments.
The later history of the abbey is a record of additions, demolition, reconstruction, and decline. During the Hundred Years' War, ramparts and towers were added; and the abbey was successively captured and recaptured by Armagnacs, English, and Burgundians. During this time, many of its monuments and possessions disappeared, including several royal tombs. The church was further pillaged during the civil and religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries. During this time some of the 13th-century buildings were demolished and replaced by others inspired by classical models. In 1528 Saint-Denis became a commendatory abbey; in 1691 the title and office of abbot were suppressed and were replaced by that of prior. However, the abbey suffered the greatest destruction and desecration in the 18th century. In 1700 demolition of the claustral building was begun, and in 1771 the western façade was enlarged. In 1781 a black and white pavement was added to cover up the 12th-century pavement. The church was pillaged between 1792 and 1794, following the overthrow of the monarchy. Equally damaging to the early church were the well-intended efforts at restoration made by napoleon i and his successors. Between 1847 and 1879 Viollet-le-Duc carried on the work of reconstruction. The abbey suffered further damage in the bombardment of Paris in 1871 and in the 20th-century wars.
Bibliography: Source. suger, Abbot Suger on the Abbey Church of St. Denis and Its Art Treasures, ed. and tr. e. panofsky (Princeton 1946). Literature. h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie (Paris 1907–53) 4.1:588–642. l. h. cottineau, Répertoire topobibliographique des abbayes et prieurés (Mâcon 1935–39) 2:2650–57. s. m. crosby, The Abbey of St. Denis, 475–1122 (New Haven 1942); L'Abbaye royale de Saint-Denis: Cent trente photos de Pierre Devinoy (Paris 1953). j. formigÉ, L'Abbaye royale de Saint-Denis: Recherches nouvelles (Paris 1960). a. lapeyre, Des Façades occidentales de Saint-Denis et de Chartres (Paris 1960).