Saturday, October 9, 2010

St. Denis

From the Golden Legend:

But the devil which had envy, and saw every day his power minished and destroyed, and that the church increased and had victory of him, moved Domitian the emperor in so great cruelty that he made a commandment that whosomever might find any christian man, that he should constrain them to do sacrifice or torment them by divers torments. And then he sent the provost Fescennius of Rome to Paris against the christian men. And found there the blessed Denis preaching, and made him cruelly to be beaten, bespit and despised, and fast to be bounden with Rusticus and Eleutherius, and to be brought tofore him: And when he saw that the saints were constant and firm in the acknowledging of our Lord, he was much heavy and sorrowful. Then came thither a noble matron, which said that her husband was foully deceived of these enchanters, and then anon the husband was sent for, and he abiding in the confession of our Lord, was anon put to death. And the saints were beaten cruelly of twelve knights, and were straightly bounden with chains of iron, and put in prison. The day following, Denis was laid upon a gridiron, and stretched all naked upon the coals of fire, and there he sang to our Lord saying: Lord thy word is vehemently fiery, and thy servant is embraced in the love thereof. And after that he was put among cruel beasts, which were excited by great hunger and famine by long fasting, and as soon as they came running upon him he made the sign of the cross against them, and anon they were made most meek and tame. And after that he was cast into a furnace of fire, and the fire anon quenched, and he had neither pain ne harm. And after that he was put on the cross, and thereon he was long tormented, and after, he was taken down and put into a dark prison with his fellows and many other christian men. And as he sang there the mass and communed the people, our Lord appeared to him with great light, and delivered to him bread, saying: Take this, my dear friend, for thy reward is most great with me. After this they were presented to the judge and were put again to new torments, and then he did do smite off the heads of the three fellows, that is to say, Denis, Rusticus, and Eleutherius, in confessing the name of the holy Trinity. And this was done by the temple of Mercury, and they were beheaded with three axes. And anon the body of Saint Denis raised himself up, and bare his head between his arms, as the angel led him two leagues from the place, which is said the hill of the martyrs, unto the place where he now resteth, by his election, and by the purveyance of God. And there was heard so great and sweet a melody of angels that many of them that heard it believed in our Lord. And Laertia, wife of the foresaid provost Lubrius, said that she was christian, and anon she was beheaded of the wicked felons, and was baptized in her blood, and so died.

In the early 7th century, Dagobert, last Merovingian king of the Franks, had built an abbey at the place of Denis's burial. In 1137 Abbot Suger ordered the basilica rebuilt, and this was the first architectural work in a style bound up in our popular imagination of the Age of Faith, which we now call Gothic. The abbey's sacred banner, the oriflamme, became the battle standard of the king of France, and the name of St. Denis was used in France's war-cry, "Montjoie Saint Denis!" (Montjoie is thought to be a derivation of mons Jovis, the Latin term for signposts or milestones, the idea being that St. Denis would guide the way of the king to victory.)

The abbey, now a cathedral-basilica, is perhaps most notable as the final resting place of most of our kings and royalty, from Clovis onwards to Louis XVIII. Though the tombs were opened and the remains desecrated and taken out into pits during the revolution, they were eventually returned to the crypt--though sadly not into their individual tombs, as it was impossible to tell whose bones were which. Most recently, the heart of Louis XVII, upon its definitive identification, was sealed into the cathedral wall in 2004.

Here is a prayer reported from a guide to the basilica in 1965, with my own addition of an intercession for the king.

O Bienheureux Saint Denys,

Voyez en ce moment votre peuple, réuni autour de votre autel.
Il vient vous renouveler son hommage et ses confiantes prières.

Depuis le jour où votre apostolat, couronné par le martyre, fit briller la foi de Jésus-Christ en cette région parisienne, votre nom y fut toujours honoré. Et vous, en retour, vous n’avez cessé de prodiguer à Paris, aux pays voisins, à la nation française tout entière, la marque d’une constante protection.

C’est ici, en votre sanctuaire, que nos Pères vinrent tant de fois pleurer leurs deuils, célébrer leurs joies, et, aux jours de péril, trouver dans l’Oriflamme qui ombrageait votre tombeau, l’espérance et le gage du salut de la Patrie.

Les siècles écoulés ne peuvent briser l’alliance contractée entre vous et la France.

Puisque la confiance de nos Pères renaît en nos coeurs, que par vous, ô Pontife, les mêmes bienfaits descandent sur nous.

Vous souvenez-vous de notre roi plus chrétien, Louis XX, de la reine, du dauphin, et de tous qui porte le sang royal de la France.

Conservez à la France la vocation des anciens jours ; obtenez à tous ses fils, à toutes les familles, et à nous-mêmes, le courage et l’union dans la fidélité au service du Christ, qui aime toujours les Francs, et qu’après les Luttes de cette vie terrestre, nous puissions triompher éternellement avec vous dans le Ciel.

Par Jésus-Christ Notre-Seigneur

Ainsi soit-il.

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