St-Denis Basilica, ParisThe district of Montmartre gets its name (roughly “mountain of the martyr” in English) from the story of Saint Denis (or the ironically-named Dyonisius). In 250, Pope Fabian sent Dyonisius to Paris to preside as Bishop.

However, due to persecutions throughout the Roman Empire, including in Gaul, the Christians had to worship in secret. The story goes that, in his old age, he was dragged to a hill overlooking the city at the site of the Temple of Mercury and decapitated.

As is the case for the strong and the righteous, he would not be so easily put away. The legend has it that he picked up his head, cleaned it in the river, and walked more than a mile where he finally succumbed to the rather unfortunate circumstances of no longer having a head attached to his shoulders. At that point, his followers buried him on the spot.

Three hundred years later, Dagobert I, king of the Franks, built the Abbey of Saint-Denis to honor this Patron Saint of Paris. In 1136, Abbot Suger began the construction of the Basilica. It wouldn’t be completed until 1281.

Tomb of Louis Xii and Anne de Bretagne, St Denis, France

Tomb of Louis XII and Anne de Bretagne

Throughout the dynasties, the Basilica became the burial place for all but three of the kings of France. The kings rested in their crypts until many of them were desecrated and thrown into mass graves during the French Revolution.

Aside from being the French Westminster Abbey, Saint-Denis has the notable distinction of being the first building that possessed traits in the Gothic style marking the first meaningful departure from the Romanesque style.

Architectural Style: Gothic

Completion: 1281

Address: 2 rue de Strasbourg, St-Denis, Paris, France (quite a bit north of most everything else)