O Most Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph

O Most Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph
In you we place all our faith and all our trust.

Friday, October 5, 2012

St. Denis - Feastday: October 9

+ JMJ +

(d. circa 258 AD) 

Patron Saint of France

Born and raised in Italy, he was sent as a missionary to Gaul (now France) from Rome, circa 250 A.D., by Pope St. Clement, along with five other bishops.  [Source]

He made his base of missionary activity an island in the Seine near the city of Lutetia Parisorium -- what would become Paris. For this reason he is known as the first bishop of Paris and the Apostle of France.  [Source]

At this time, Paris was under Roman rule and law. Christianity had been outlawed as a strange and peculiar sect. The majority of the population followed the current belief that the Roman emperor was divine.  St. Denis denied the divinity of the Roman emperor.  [Source]

During the persecution under Valerius in 258, he was arrested, along with his inseparable companions, Rusticus and Eleutherius.  Later writers have referred to them as Denis' priest and deacon, or his deacon and subdeacon, but we have no further information on them.  [Source]

After a long imprisonment and several aborted executions, the three martyrs were taken to the temple of Mercury, on the hill now known as Montmartre (literally, "mountain of martyrs"), and beheaded with a sword.   [Source]

Nothing unusual so far, you say. People were mutilated and beheaded, according to the laws and customs of the time, regularly.  What made this particular beheading rather different was the attitude of the beheadee (this may be a new word, forgive me, but it does fit). Quite simply he picked up his head and walked!   {Source}

unknown st denis patron saint of france 1826 
St. Denis, Patron Saint of France, 1826 (unknown)

First, he washed it in a nearby stream, and then walked a further 6000 paces carrying his head and preaching a sermon the entire way. Then he lay down and died.  It is not recorded what the bewildered Roman officials thought of all this kerfuffle.  {Source}

Another story says that his body and those of Eleutherius and Rusticus were thrown into the river.  They were later retrieved from the Seine by his converts and buried on the spot of their martyrdom [Source]

Veneration of Saint Denis began soon after his death.  The spot where he died became a holy place.  Christians visited it, at first, in secret and quietly, as the religion was still outlawed.  But in time Christianity gained popularity, and soon became the common religion, so they visited openly.  {Source}

Then in 451, Geneviève, a Christian, had a vision from God.  At this time the Huns, led by Attila, had overrun large parts of Europe, and were heading for Paris with nothing in their way to stop them.  People had already started to flee from the city.  But in Geneviève's vision, she saw that the Huns would not enter Paris, and she urged the people to stay in their city.  {Source}

St. Geneviève of Paris 
(422 - 512 AD)

They stayed, and the Huns moved south to the richer pickings of the Loire valley, and their eventual defeat, but that's another story.  Geneviève converted the current king, Clovis, to Christianity.  Assisted by the people of Paris, Geneviève (who was granted sainthood later on and became the patron saint of Paris) built a church over St. Denis's tomb at the beginning of the sixth century.  The site became a pilgrimage place.  {Source}  

File:St Denis Front.jpg

 St. Denis Basilica
Ile-de-France, Paris, France
(About noon, Winter, 2005)

The long, vaulted Gothic nave of St-Denis.

Several churches existed before the current cathedral was built in Gothic style in the 12th and 13th centuries.  [Source]

It was the first Gothic church in the world.  [Source]

Saint Denis basilica, rose window

The rose window inside the basilica.

The cathedral became the burial place for most of the kings of France, from the 5th century until the French Revolution in 1793.  [Source]

Tombs with Funeral Sculptures inside the Royal Basilica

(From left to right)  The tombs of Philip le Long, Jane d'Evereaux, and Charles IV, le Bel (the Good).   {Source}

St. Denis is usually represented with his head in his hands.  While many Christian martyrs carry the instruments of their martyrdom in iconography, and a few others roll with the bits of severed flesh exacted by those martyrdoms, Denis is only the most notable of an entire designated sub-class who carry their own heads: cephalophores{Source}

Again we have the case of a saint about whom almost nothing is known, yet one whose cult has been a vigorous part of the Church's history for centuries. We can only conclude that the deep impression the saint made on the people of his day must have resulted from a life of unusual holiness.  [Source]

In all such cases, there are two fundamental facts: A great man gave his life for Christ, and the Church has never forgotten him — a human symbol of God's eternal mindfulness. (   

October 9 is celebrated as the feast of Saint Denis and also of his companions, Rusticus and Eleutherius.  Denis (or Dionysius as he is also called) is the most famous of the three.  [Source]

Particular Patronage:

Helper against headache, trouble of conscience and faith, in painful fights when you risk your head, patron of France and Paris, former patron of the Carolingian dynasty.   [Source]

Prayer to St. Denis and Companions: 
O shepherd of a faithful people, you shed your blood with your brothers as a holy offering to the Lord after drawing many souls into His fold. Beheaded for your success as Christ’s evangelist, you still lead faithful souls to God. 

Pray we shall be so ready to lay down our own lives for the propagation of the Word of God, and that on our journey, we shall be protected from all the snares of the devil, that nothing shall prevent our standing at Jesus’s side both in this world and the next.  Amen.   [Source]

Shorter Prayer:   

St. Denis, we, too, are in danger during the daily strain of life.  Help us not to give up because of our weakness.  Show us the direct way to sincere penitence so that we can feel God's love and mercy.  [Source]

Saints Denis, Eleutherius, and Rusticus, pray for us, now and at the hour of our death.  Amen.

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