Sunday, October 23, 2005

A long walk if

One of many prodigiously talented parents from Eurecole, Kelly Spearman is has a Phd in art history from the Sorbonne and conducts regular tours for the other parents. We tagged along this Friday to visit the Basilica of St Denis in the presence of somebody who knows what they are talking about.

In the tradition of Ina Caro’s book, “The Road From The Past,” Kelly brought this enormous monument to life for us by helping us understand how it had grown over time from a very humble graveyard to an enormous basilica. Rather than giving us a pastiche of highlights a la a Michelin guide, Kelly started with the ruins of the original church located in the crypt and then toured us through the basilica as though we were riding a time machine.

St Denis is located just outside Paris on the main trade route going North to Normandy. In the year 220 or so, St Denis and two other brave guys were dispatched to convert the heathen Gauls to Christianity. This was dangerous work, as Rome was still using Christians to reduce the care and feeding costs of their lion populations.

Not long after St. Denis and his buddies arrived in Paris, the Romans captured them, grilled them over an open fire and then removed their heads. This being back when men were men, St Denis and his companions calmly picked up their heads and walked a good 10km north (just think of the blisters) before finding a burial site more to their liking. This site became the location of the Basilica of St Denis.

In addition to the saints, most of the French kings and queens are buried at St Denis as well. Some of them, rather unintentionally, even went as far as to emulate St Denis by getting their heads lopped off. It is important to note, however, that none of them had the gumption to pick up their severed extremities and hike the distance to the graveyard themselves.

Tags: Paris travel