Anyone who has followed the news in France recently has surely heard of Saint-Denis, the Paris suburb called "gritty" by even mainstream media. Located a few miles north of Paris, it is a predominantly Moslem neighborhood that houses terrorists, raided by French police on 18 November following this month's terrorist attacks there.
What people may not know is the rich history in the town, anchored by the magnificent Basilique royale de Saint-Denis. It was such a prominent place that the anti-Catholic leaders of the French Revolution renamed it Franciade (reversed by Napoléon Bonaparte).
The church was completed in 1144, which makes it the first Gothic church in the world. The other distinction for the church is that it houses the remains of nearly every monarch in the history of France, including all but three kings. It is named for the first bishop of Paris, who, having been martyred, is said to have carried his head to the site where the church was built.
When this writer visited Paris in April of this year, my wife and I asked our hotel concierge for advice on visiting Saint-Denis. His stern response was not to go there. When pressed, knowing we really wanted to visit the church, he advised us to go in the morning, exit the Paris Métro Line 13 stop near (and named for) the church and to get into the sacred space as quickly as possible.
The Basilique royale de Saint-Denis is a stunning place to visit (even if it is practically a museum in post-Christian France). The Republic (which owns all of the churches) is currently in the midst of a major restoration there.
It was quite the intimidating site, to be honest, in the short distance between the Basilique de Saint-Denis stop and the church itself, but well worth it. Here are some photos we took: