At the heart of the history of the Basilica of Saint-Denis

Built on the site of a cemetery, the burial place of the missionary bishop Saint Denis, martyred around 250, the basilica became a royal necropolis from the beginnings of the French royal family from the time of Queen Arégonde, daughter-in-law of Clovis I.ahemrests there, as do the tombs of 43 kings, 32 queens and 10 servants of the monarchy, since Dagobert I.ahem until Louis XVIII.
Abbot Suger made deep modifications in the 12th century.E century, including the western massif and the apse, making this architectural work an important work of Gothic art. It was completed at 13E century under the reign of Saint Louis. State property, the basilica was listed as a historical monument in 1862. In 1966, it was elevated to a cathedral.

Archaeologists are currently working inside and outside the basilica. They uncovered a very dense burial occupation (almost 200 burials were excavated), from the end of the 5thE century with Merovingian and Carolingian remains, some of which predate the construction of the building. It was buried until the end of the Middle Ages.


Around sixty plaster sarcophagi, mainly from the Merovingian period (VE– VIIE century) and in an exceptional state of preservation, have been excavated to this day (their final number could approach a hundred). The Merovingian sarcophagi are arranged in successive rows and a burial gallery has been revealed. Plaster tanks have numerous molded decorations on the walls. These burials are organized into sectors. Sometimes the deceased has metal debris from their clothing. This division and these characteristics certainly reveal social differences and the presence of an aristocracy and a monastic population.

Later burials (from VIIIE at 14E century) do not have so many advantages. Usually wrapped in burial sheets, without clothing, the bodies are placed in small grave pits. Sometimes wooden formwork or brick tombs were built there. We see the appearance around XI at this stageE century of the first flat graves, these burial slabs typical of the Middle Ages, which cover the grave at ground level.


A set of Carolingian buildings (VIIIEE century) brought to light remains to be interpreted. Poorly preserved, it is cut up and sometimes covered by the construction of the western massif from 1137 to 1140, which was built by Abbot Suger.

This work revolutionizes the history of architecture: it is the first step towards the birth of the Gothic style, which clearly appears in its apse built between 1140 and 1144. Excavations have now understood this site in detail: excavated remains, levels of stone waste assembled, holes for scaffolding, foundations trenches and architectural reuse, reflect the organization of masonry, workers’ marks, scaffolding balls and traces of repairs visible in the views.

Layout: Regional Directorate for Cultural Affairs of Île-de-France
Scientific control: Regional Archaeological Service (Drac Île-de-France)
Archeological research: Office of Archaeological Monuments of the Department of Seine-Saint-Denis, Archaeological Unit of the City of Saint-Denis, Inrap
Head of Archaeological Research (RRA): Ivan Lafarge, Seine-Saint-Denis
Sector manager, RRA representative: Cyrille Le Forestier, Inrap

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