o tempora, o mores

While the town of  Saint-Denis has undergone numerous, rather drastic changes in its history from the fifth century to the present, it seems that the town has served as an indicator of the traditions and development of “French” culture. Paris herself has her own history, and has been prized by countless political figures because it serves as the hub of socio-economic influence; but Saint-Denis seems to be a receiving or “impressionable” city. Being located just north of Paris, Saint-Denis is close enough to be important, but because it has never been a political center in France, it seems to tell the story of how French culture has developed, as well as what was important to the people, and what crises or zenith took place in French history. As such, Saint-Denis shows us, in some capacity, what was important to the people throughout the centuries.

From the fifth through the twelfth century, Saint-Denis fostered a burgeoning basilica and a necropolis. With a burial site for royalty and a simple church structure, Saint-Denis demonstrates the importance of Christianity in Medieval culture. As new churches began to develop, along with housing for citizens, the city began to grow: royal presence declines and the monastic groups expand at the turn of the millennium. Under Abbot Suger in the mid-thirteenth century, Saint-Denis saw the rebuilding of her church, and over the next few hundred years, the town would be overseen by the abbey and the town would prosper.

In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Saint-Denis was impeded and scarred by the Hundred-Years War and the Hugenot uprising. The abbeys were closed and eventually pillaged, and the growth of the town stagnated, as did her revenues with the closing of the Fair. During this time, the abbot’s role as well was filled by a lay or non-clerical figure appointed by the king. The stains of France’s wars certainly left their mark upon Saint-Denis, and religious life was hampered. Following the wars, the Swiss Guards were billeted on the local inhabitants, and the city itself was fortified with bastions in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

By the nineteenth century when the French Revolution broke out, Saint-Denis shows the signs of this major political shift in France: the necropolis of the old kings was raided and the church was disgraced. Thus, Saint-Denis, founded upon the Medieval values of patrimony and Christianity, saw the church and necropolis upon which she was founded, defiled and displaced. Following this period, industrialization took over, and today, modernization guides her development.

Saint-Denis, through the history of her infrastructure and architecture, tells the story of the values and traditions of her “country.” She saw the founding of a Christian town and saw it through its fall and industrialization, and now undergoes modernization in present-day France. She is a signpost of the times and the customs.


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