Royal Crowns...
June 1, 2000

(A tranquil and little visited plaza in the "Marais" of Paris, June 1, 2000)

The word "Marais" literally means "swamp".  The name dates from a time when this area was mainly a bog on the outskirts of the city.  The bogs were drained in the Middle Ages and today this is one of the most elegant and charming parts of Paris.

Here we view the elegant "Maison Salée" or "Salt House".  In the not too distant past salt was a precious commodity and this house was built by the agent who collected the dreaded salt tax, or "gabelle".  We'll see more about the importance of salt in Vendée.  Today this house is home to the famous Picasso museum, which we visited at length last year.  We have other visits on our program today, however.



After a stroll through the Place des Vosges, which was built by the great Henri IV, we enter the gardens of Henri's great minister Sully.  Henri IV lead France to a peaceful resolution of the religious wars of the 1500's.  He also laid the groundwork for an unheard of level of economic prosperity for the years following his reign.  Sully's house here foreshadows the great buildings of Henri VI's son and grandson, Louis XIII and Louis XIV. 


Henri IV came to the throne after the last of the Valois dynasty died without a direct male heir.  Being the great nephew of François I, Henri had the best claim, but being a Protestant made impossible for him to be crowned in the Catholic ceremonies that were a part of royal tradition.  Three great gestures made him successful.  The second and third were his conversion to Catholicism and his oft imitated promise to put a "chicken in every pot" every subject.  His first was his marriage to the daughter of the dead king Henri II.  Queen Margot or Marguerite de Valois was largely responsible for bringing Henri IV to the throne.  Once on the throne, though, the marriage fell apart.  The house here, built by wealthy church officials in the Middle Ages, was a residence to Queen Margot after her separation from Henri IV.  A major feature of our upcoming visit to Bordeau will be an elegant meal in a castle once owned by Henri IV and Queen Margot.


Our path leads us next toward the cathedral of Notre Dame.  Today is the feast of the Ascention, and high mass is held here much of the day.  Our visit inside must be discrete, but the beauty of this great church is all the greater when is serves to true purpose for which it was built. 


A cleaning project has been underway for several years at Notre Dame.  Now finished, we are able to admire the original whiteness of the stones.  Here you may note to the left of the door, one of the statues holding his head in his hands.  The is the statue of Saint Denis, a martyr who was beheaded by the Romans on the hill of Montmartre (Mount of Martyrs).  It is said that after the execution, Saint Denis took his head in hands and marched several kilometers outside the city.  There he posed his head and asked to be buried in that spot.  This of course is the site of the Basilica of Saint Denis, one of the most venerated places in France.

In the centuries after Saint Denis' death, Gaule of course did convert to Christianity.  As the pagans became Christians this place gained symbolic weight as a destination for pilgrims.  Soon, even the kings wished to share Saint Denis' burial place.

It almost a thousand years later, however that Saint Denis took on the role that it would hold for centuries.  It was in fact king Louis VI and his great minister the Abbot Suger who called on the greatest architects in Europe to come build a new kind of church on this site.  The work of those master builders was the world's first Gothic edifice, the first building in which stone seems to fly toward the heavens while serving the very light of God to those who have entered.  The next project of Suger would of course be Notre Dame de Paris.

Suger convinced Louis that for his dynasty to grow, he needed to maximize its symbolic links to the heroic past of Saint Denis and the earlier Frankish kings who venerated him.  The project of a national burial place for all French kings was born.


Among the kings buried here are many of the Carolingians.  The two lower "gisants" of "lying statues" are those of Charlemagne's parents Pépin le Bref and Berthe au Grand Pied (Pépin the Short and Bertha Big Foot).




On the left is the gisant of Clovis, the first Frankish king to accept Christianity.  Though the date is contested, Clovis' baptism took place around the year 496 in the city of Reims.  After Suger and Louis VI, The three major churches of the monarchy were thus Reims where the kings were crowned, Notre Dame where they went to mass and were often married, and Saint Denis where they were buried.


Here the WVU-Vendéens gather around the gisants of Henri II and Catherine de Médicis, the last great Valois monarchs.  After Henri II's premature death in a jousting accident his three sons would rule over a France in the throes of fratricidal religious wars.  Those three sons would each die without an heir, and their sister, Queen Margot, would marry the future Henri IV, mentioned above.



Here we see the bust of Henri IV, behind Ryan Schiffbauer who listens as Madame Benoist explains the stories behind the works dedicated to the Bourbon dynasty which he founded.



The Gothic basilica was built on the grounds of a chapel dating back to the early Dark Ages.  Here we see the crypt and the original Merovingian tombs. 



Here Madame Benoist explains the story of the urn built to hold the heart of François Ier, or Francis the First.  Among the most famous of the Valois kings, François lived in the time of the English Henry VIII, and built the great castle of Chamord which we will visit later in our trip.

Stay tuned to WVU-V!

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