Today we had a plan. An actual plan…not strict, more like an outline. I’d been hankering to go up to St. Denis to see Abbot Suger’s famous Cathedral: the first Gothic cathedral ever built. I was intrigued and had been reading so much about it for one of my projects that I knew I needed to see this before we left. So that was on the agenda. We also wanted to see the Musee Rodin – home of that famous sculpture, The Thinker. So that was our plan.
We caught the metro north and about 45 minutes later were stepping out of the station into a huge outdoor party. We were seeing another face of Paris. A huge African and North African population hold an outdoor market here several times a week and you can buy everything from bright African-print mumus to cooking supplies to shampoo to belts to fruit and more. There is also a big covered market where the pungent smells of freshly butchered meat, ocean smelling fish, flowers and street food stands all mix into an heady aroma. We wandered through this colorful mix of products and characters, marveling at the variety of wares.
We then followed the signs to the Basilique de St. Denis and stepped into an entirely different world. It was so strange. As soon as we crossed the street from the market we entered a clean, manicured public square in front of the Hotel de Ville. Gorgeous flower boxes decorated the square, the gothic cathedral stood over us, it was quiet. I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced such an abrupt change of scenes. Shaking our heads in bewilderment, we entered the church. It is really a beautiful building – the flying butresses (a later addition), the stained glass windows, the tall arches. You can see why Abbot’s innovative design caused quite the stir. Now it has been slightly updated but still retains it’s core Gothic elements. The current building, dating back from the 11th century, stands on a crypt that dates back to c. 250! It’s an archeological dig that you can see from the crypt. This leads to an astounding amount of history being housed under this single roof. From it’s beginning as the burial place of St. Denis (first bishop of Paris), a martyr who was reputed to have picked up his own decapitated head, to it’s more resent history as coronation and burial site of French royalty, this is one interesting cathedral. Marie Antoinette is buried here (well what remains of her once she was removed from the mass grave that the revolutionaries had thrown her in), along with nearly every French king from the 10th to the 18th century. The funny thing about these graves is that they’re decorated with carved likenesses of the deceased. It’s fascinating.
Here’s the pictures!
One interesting thing I’ve noticed about the churches we’ve been in here is that there are these little, ornate “Ark of the Covenant” style boxes that house pieces of bone, scraps of cloth, and various other relics. I’m so curious as to what I’ve seen…
After our walk through St. Denis, we grabbed lunch before heading to our next destination. I’m going to do this in a new entry so keep your eyes open for that. Also, more photos on my Flickr page.