When reflecting on Saint-Denis as a whole after reading today’s assignment, I was struck by some of the similarities between the France of today and the villages of the past that would become part of France. I spend last semester in France and, while I knew that the traditions of outdoor markets and fresh-baked bread from boulangeries had been in France for a long time, I hadn’t realized that those traditions went back as far as 700 and 1400 AD respectively. Actually, those traditions were common occurrences by that time and probably began to make their debut at a much earlier date.
When thinking of Caen, Normandy on a Sunday morning, an image of a huge outdoor market comes to mind. It is a tradition that has lasted generations and will continue to do so because it is an integral part of French life. France cannot be imagined properly without it.
Like in the Middle Ages, the market still appears weekly in its town. The streets are still filled with all of the townspeople, and the booths are filled with artisans, merchants, and food vendors. Saint-Denis, in the Middle Ages, had already developed the tradition and everyone came weekly to participate.
Bread, like the market, is a tradition in which everyone participated. It was a staple food used in the abbey, taverns, and personal homes. It is still common today to see a Frenchman or woman carrying a baguette, or other form of bread, down the road or on the tram. Every meal is eaten with bread in France.
Along with the bread tradition, medieval Saint-Denis has also developed an early form of food-service regulation. While food-service regulation is not unique to French culture, it is an interesting part of society in medieval Saint-Denis. The head baker at the abbey gave other bakers permission to sell their bread in Saint-Denis. He also inspected the bakeries to inspect the quality of bread, and he forbade the bakers to sell their bread the day after it was made. Not only does this represent a high standard for food in the medieval era, but the high standard that the French would have for food from the medieval period until today.
While Lattes was the first town we have looked at that carried specific familiar qualities, Saint-Denis is the first that strongly resembles French culture today. The markets that are still held in Saint-Denis and other cities have lasted centuries and continue to bring the community together once a week in a joint celebration of the rich history that France offers. French bread is excellent in quality because of this history as well. It is because of people like the “Master Baker,” who start traditions and uphold standards of quality, that the French have perfected the art of bread making. Saint-Denis is truly an image of French culture developing even before France was a country.