Since the fall of the Roman Empire and the Christianization of the Germanic Franks who filled the vacuum left by the Romans, Saint-Denis has been a site of great significance for the monarchy and the Church.   Saint Denis himself was martyred in Paris around the year 250, in the part of Paris now known as Montmartre -- the Mount of the Martyr.  Decapitated, he miraculously took his own head in hand and marched outside the city to this holy place, where he asked to be buried.  The very earliest French kings thus took to this site as a place to be revered.  In the 12th century, King Louis VI and his minister Suger decided that the old church here should be renovated and they put all the king's resources to work.  The greatest artists, architects, and craftsmen of the day were assembled here.  The object was simple -- and to some impossible -- build a new kind of building in which the stone would rise toward the sky as a soul on its way to heaven.  They did it!   One of the keys to their success was the flying buttress we see here.  Its function was to send the weight of the stone structure down and away from the center.  This allowed the church itself to rise higher and lighter in the center.  No one before had ever imagined such a miracle.....  
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This page last updated on 5/30/2001 5:40:25 PM.