Merissa Carson

Merissa Carson

Published: 20 Sep 2023


The Saint-Denis Basilica, located just north of Paris, is a true marvel of architecture and history. As the final resting place of the French kings and queens, this stunning landmark holds centuries of stories within its walls. But this incredible basilica is more than just a burial site; it is a testament to medieval craftsmanship and religious devotion. In this article, we will delve into the fascinating world of the Saint-Denis Basilica and uncover 17 extraordinary facts that make it a must-visit landmark for history buffs and architecture enthusiasts alike. From its connection to the Gothic architectural style to its remarkable stained glass windows, prepare to be awed by the beauty and historical significance of the Saint-Denis Basilica.

Table of Contents

The First Gothic Cathedral

Saint-Denis Basilica is widely recognized as the first Gothic cathedral ever built. Its architectural style and innovative design laid the foundation for the development of Gothic architecture throughout Europe.

A Royal Burial Place

For centuries, Saint-Denis Basilica has served as the final resting place for the French monarchy. Seventeen kings, sixteen queens, and numerous other members of the royal family are interred within its hallowed walls.

The Birthplace of the Gothic Style

The construction of Saint-Denis Basilica marked a pivotal moment in architectural history, as it introduced revolutionary features such as ribbed vaults, pointed arches, and flying buttresses. These elements became synonymous with the Gothic style.

The Tomb of Saint Denis

The basilica is named after Saint Denis, the patron saint of France. Legend has it that after being martyred, Saint Denis picked up his decapitated head and walked several miles to the site where the basilica now stands. His remains are enshrined in the church.

The Magnificent Rose Windows

One of the most breathtaking features of Saint-Denis Basilica is its collection of rose windows. These stunning stained glass windows, dating back to the 12th century, depict biblical scenes and provide a mesmerizing play of light inside the church.

The Legendary Viollet-le-Duc Restoration

In the 19th century, the renowned architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc oversaw a meticulous restoration of Saint-Denis Basilica. His work aimed to revive the original medieval splendor of the cathedral, making it a masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture.

The Burial Site of King Louis XIV

The famous Sun King, Louis XIV, is buried in Saint-Denis Basilica. His majestic tomb, adorned with intricate sculptures and gilded decorations, is a testament to the grandeur of the French monarchy during his reign.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site

In 1996, Saint-Denis Basilica was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its exceptional cultural and historical significance. It stands as a symbol of France’s rich heritage and architectural prowess.

The Site of Historic Events

Saint-Denis Basilica witnessed numerous significant events throughout history. It served as the venue for the coronation of French kings, including Joan of Arc’s coronation of King Charles VII, and hosted the funeral ceremony of Napoleon Bonaparte.

The Gothic Tombs and Effigies

Within the basilica, visitors can marvel at the elaborate Gothic tombs and effigies that adorn the chapels. These intricately carved sculptures pay homage to the grandeur and artistic craftsmanship of the Middle Ages.

A Treasure Trove of Medieval Art

Saint-Denis Basilica houses an impressive collection of medieval art, including exquisite tapestries, sculptures, and illuminated manuscripts. These masterpieces provide a glimpse into the rich artistic heritage of the time.

The Basilica’s Astronomical Clock

One of the highlights of Saint-Denis Basilica is its impressive astronomical clock. Installed in the 16th century, this intricate timepiece features various astronomical displays and mechanical figures that astound visitors to this day.

The Magnificent Organ

The basilica boasts a magnificent organ, which dates back to the 18th century. With its intricate pipes and melodious tones, the organ adds a heavenly ambiance to the religious ceremonies held within the church.

The North Tower Ascension

Daring visitors can embark on a thrilling climb up the North Tower of Saint-Denis Basilica. The ascent offers panoramic views of the surrounding area and allows you to marvel at the architectural splendor up close.

A Place of Pilgrimage

Saint-Denis Basilica has been a popular pilgrimage site for centuries. People from all walks of life flock to the basilica to pay their respects to Saint Denis and seek solace in its serene and sacred atmosphere.

An Inspiration for Victor Hugo

The grandeur and historical significance of Saint-Denis Basilica inspired French writer Victor Hugo to write about it in his novel, “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.” The captivating descriptions in his book brought the basilica to the attention of a wider audience.

A Testament to French Identity

Saint-Denis Basilica holds immense cultural and historical significance for the French people. It stands as a testament to their national identity and the enduring legacy of the French monarchy.


In conclusion, Saint-Denis Basilica is a truly extraordinary landmark that holds a wealth of historical and architectural significance. From its origins as the burial site of French kings to its stunning Gothic design and breathtaking stained glass windows, this ancient basilica continues to captivate visitors from all over the world. Its role as a symbol of French monarchy and its association with the birth of Gothic architecture make it a must-visit destination for history and art enthusiasts.


Q: When was Saint-Denis Basilica built?

A: Saint-Denis Basilica was built in the 12th century, with construction starting around 1135 and completed in the early 13th century.

Q: Who is buried in Saint-Denis Basilica?

A: Saint-Denis Basilica is the final resting place of many French kings and queens, including Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

Q: Is Saint-Denis Basilica open to the public?

A: Yes, Saint-Denis Basilica is open to the public. Visitors can explore the basilica and admire its architectural features, as well as the stunning stained glass windows.

Q: Can you climb the towers of Saint-Denis Basilica?

A: Unfortunately, at the moment, visitors are unable to climb the towers of Saint-Denis Basilica due to ongoing restoration work.

Q: Does Saint-Denis Basilica offer guided tours?

A: Yes, guided tours are available at Saint-Denis Basilica. These tours provide fascinating insights into the history and artistry of the basilica.

Q: How does Saint-Denis Basilica contribute to the development of Gothic architecture?

A: Saint-Denis Basilica is considered the birthplace of Gothic architecture. Its innovative design and structural elements, such as pointed arches and ribbed vaults, set the template for future Gothic cathedrals.

Q: Can photos be taken inside Saint-Denis Basilica?

A: Yes, photography is allowed inside Saint-Denis Basilica, except for the Royal Necropolis area, where photography is prohibited out of respect for the deceased.

Q: Is Saint-Denis Basilica accessible for individuals with mobility challenges?

A: While efforts have been made to make Saint-Denis Basilica accessible, there are some parts of the basilica that may present challenges for individuals with mobility issues due to narrow passages and steps.

Q: Are there any special events or ceremonies held at Saint-Denis Basilica?

A: Saint-Denis Basilica hosts occasional special events, such as concerts and religious ceremonies. It is advisable to check the basilica’s website or inquire locally for information about upcoming events.