Day 10: Saint-Denis
May 9, 2012
|Michael and I headed off by train to Saint-Denis early this morning. The trip is meant to be difficult, but we did it in under half an hour on a zone 1 metro ticket, even though it is in zone 5. We felt quite triumphant.
Saint-Denis is one of the masterpieces of European ecclesiastical architecture as it is the prototype for gothic architecture in Western Europe. What Abbot Suger developed here was later refined in other churches such as Chartres Cathedral.
Unlike Chartres [Cathedral], Saint-Denis was not built in a short period of time so it displays different features of the emerging and developing gothic style. The nave, which was constructed last, has far more extensive use of glass than Chartres, even though parts of Saint-Denis were begun earlier.
Saint-Denis also introduces some innovative architectural elements. These include the 'rose window' which became such a feature of later gothic cathedrals.
But getting back to our arrival in Saint-Denis. The metro stop is just near the church. We weren't quite sure what to expect because we'd read that Saint-Denis has the highest crime rate in Paris. Also that it was very ethnically diverse. Well, we felt quite safe, and the ethnic diversity made us feel quite at home.
Arriving at the church made one aware of the vast amount of restoration that had occurred, both recently, and over the centuries. This is because the church has traditionally been the burial site of French royalty. During the Revolution, the bones were exhumed and thrown in a mass grave. Much of the church, including its stained glass and statuary was damaged or desecrated. After the restoration of 1814, an attempt was made to restore the tombs and the church. This restoration continues today.
The most impressive part of the church is perhaps the crypt, where most of the bones of the pre-revolutionary period are stored in a large ossuary. Other Bourbon tombs, including Louis XVI, Marie Antoniette, Louis XVIII and more recently the heart of Louis XVII are entombed separately.
We spent over two hours in the church and took hundreds of photos of stained glass, gothic inlaid and carved choir stalls, medieval statuary, marble tombs and bass reliefs, the organ, and the architecture generally.
It was more satisfying for me than Chartres because there, over half the church had been cut off from viewing due to restoration.
After we left the church, we walked through the town and had lunch at a local brasserie. Unfortunately for me the andouiettes were finished for the day. The creme brûlée was the highlight of a very cheap meal.
After returning to Paris, we visited the Musee Arts and Metiers near where I live. It houses Foucault's pendulum and a number of his other inventions. The original model of the Statue of Liberty is also in the museum.
After that we went to Cafe Arts and Metiers where I drank my first Absinthe (pronounced Absent). Then later it was on to Happy Noailles for a very ordinary Chinese meal. So much for Trip Advisor reviews!