Dionysien aside

I am sorry to say, that I have never visited the necropolis of the French kings. It is in the “commune” of Saint-Denis, now a northern suburb of Paris. The basilica was founded around the corpse of Saint Denis (or “Dionysius”) of France: the first bishop of Paris, martyred on Montmartre in 250 AD. In the VIIth century, Dagobert I (a contemporary of Mohammad of Arabia) was buried there, and after him, I think all but three of the kings, and most of the queens of the Franks and of France.

The basilica and its associated abbey — now “administered” by the French state — are also of tremendous significance in Western art. One could fill pages and pages with this cultural heritage, through all the intervening centuries, but one fact stands above all others. Under the great Abbot Suger, the abbey church was reconstructed and refurbished, 1137–48. It became the first of all the Gothic cathedrals. It could be fairly said that Gothic architecture — which is to say, the highest and noblest reach to which the art of building ever attained anywhere on the surface of this Earth — dates precisely from that singular edifice. (I have on my shelves the text of a symposium in which two dozen leading contemporary art historians affirm this plainly, from each of their respective angles of expertise. See here.)

More, so much more, could be said. No place in all of France can have such resonance, for genuinely patriotic Frenchmen, or for all who, like me, love old France with an overweening passion. By which I do not mean some “republic,” for I refer to the sons and daughters of a France that was murdered in the French Revolution; and has risen and been murdered again, many times; and will be restored when Christendom is restored — that France which is the eldest daughter of the Church of Christ.

One might say it was murdered yet again yesterday: not only by some gunmen in the Boulevard Richard Lenoir, but also in the sight of great crowds, morally preening by candlelight in response to that event, who think their heritage is liberty alone. (I shall have more to say on this in Catholic Thing, tomorrow.)

A friend writes:

“Have you ever been to Saint-Denis? I was stuck at Charles de Gaulle airport for half a day a couple years ago, and calculated that I could go down by train to the cathedral and still make my flight home. The train lets you off near the Stade de France. There’s a highway, I think built deliberately, between the stop and the cathedral, one barrier against enabling the French to visit the tombs. No Metro stop is nearby. (Another barrier: the Communists are not stupid.) The whole neighbourhood is Muslim, not particularly threatening in daylight, but the tombs of the old kings of France now lie in Muslim territory. Most of my French friends — usually Catholic and conservative — have never visited for various reasons.”