St. Denis contains the remains of and monuments to about 1,000 years of France's kings and queens.
I'd been waiting to revisit St. Denis Basilica for a long time. What I didn't do is plan for the kind of lighting you get inside a building like this on a cloudy day. The last time I visited, there were incredible colored light patterns cast across the nave and much of the interior. Of course the crypt would be dark anyway. I was using a new camera, and it generally takes much better photos in low light than my last one, so I wasn't sure what to expect. In the future I'd arm myself with a monopod or small tripod and I'd study exposures. So, for instance, the picture above, the main nave, is a bit blurry. Some came out really well, and one I think is exceptional, but this blurry one is the only picture I have of the nave. The church is huge, and this doesn't even show the full length. Here we're looking toward the altar. Just for comparison, here's a look at Notre Dame in Paris. See how different the styling of the pillars is? It would be fun to take time to study both of these churches in more detail, as their time frame is very similar.
Now in the south aisle looking again toward the altar, you can see that the building is somewhat on a split-level plan. We're on the ground floor, and the inner ambulatory, or whatever it's officially called, is up the staircase.
I love vaulting and Gothic columns.
This is the north rose window as seen from the south arm of the transept.
There are a thousand years of kings and queens of France buried or commemorated here. You see these placards immediately on entering the church. Look at the dates. They lived in the 8th and 9th Centuries. After doing my genealogy, I found this segment of the church especially interesting, because I recognized some of the names. Berthe is "Bertha Big Foot," which I read somewhere didn't have to do with the size of her feet, but perhaps she could walk a long distance or something like that. I don't remember the exact meaning, but it's funny how those nicknames don't always mean what they sound like. These are Charlemagne's relatives, so anyone who traces their lineages back to Charlemagne can say hello to their resting ancestors here. If not, it's simply an amazing collection of history. St. Denis feels reverent and so historic at the same time. It's part museum and part church, and I think many people get that feeling. The graves and monuments are so old and have such a place in history, and yet they're displayed in a very matter-of-fact and almost mundane manner. Strange but nice.
They had to pack a lot of memorials and graves into one building, and you find a number of families sleeping side by side here "for eternity," like a crowded dormitory in stone. The labels are usually very good, so if you take the time, you can really see who they are.
This label goes with the photo below.
Antoine de la Haye's memorial engraving is on the wall just to the right as you enter from the south. There were two people sitting there ready to answer questions and keep an eye on things.
Here's another set of plaques for graves and monuments nearby. They show you which person is in which location of the grouping. I could have spent a lot longer photographing and connecting the names. For one reason or another, I didn't. There was a lot to see, and I felt like we still had a long day ahead. Maybe someday I'll make the time. It would be fun.
I used flash on this one. I don't usually like it because it flattens out the subject and I love natural light, but it worked OK here.
This is an amazing composition in stone of Francoise I (d. 1547) and Claude de France (d. 1524). Most of the figures are draped, but this couple is depicted a la Renaissance aesthetics nude and natural, showing them very much as they must have looked in life, including their aging features. It is clearly one of, or in my mind probably THE artistic masterpiece among the sculptures. Obviously, they are also lit for dramatic effect. These are trained lights, not random spill from a window. The tomb was sculpted by Phibert Delorme, Pierre Bontemps, Primaticcio and others.
Here are Claude and Francoise from another angle. I love this photo. It's worth clicking on it to see the bigger version. They are carved on a tall dais so you have to stand on the steps provided to get this view.
Here are Claude and Francois again. I love their feet.
The basilica is filled with less naturalistic but very precious carvings.
Here is the framing for the rose window over the south arm of the transept. When I asked whether it had been taken out for repair, the guide said it had been. When I was here before, there had been a recent heavy wind storm that had done some damage to the stained glass. Between events like that, time, weather, algae and other factors, a building like this must always be a work in progress. When visiting, you also get the impression that being out here in the 'burbs, it may not get the bigger funding it deserves.
This seems to be the window in in the north side again from a slightly different angle.
January 29, 2012: I revisit this post today to take part in the growing blog community Taphophile Tragics. Come honor and enjoy.
If you want to see photos of our entire trip, I've put them in one of my Picasa Web Albums under Paris 2008.
Go to Part 13 of the blog record of our trip.