Denis  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

According to Christian tradition, Saint Denis (also called Dionysius, Dennis, or Denys) is a Christian martyr and saint. In the third century, he was Bishop of Paris. He was martyred in connection with the Decian persecution of Christians, shortly after 250 AD. After his head was chopped off, Denis is said to have picked it up and walked ten kilometres (six miles), preaching a sermon the entire way, making him one of many cephalophores in hagiology. He is venerated in the Roman Catholic Church as patron of Paris, France, and as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. The medieval and modern French name "Denis" derives from the ancient name Dionysius.

Martyrdom

Denis, having alarmed the pagan priests by his many conversions, was executed by beheading on the highest hill in Paris (now Montmartre), which was likely to have been a druidic holy place. The martyrdom of Denis and his companions is popularly believed to have given it its current name, derived from the Latin mons martyrium "The Martyrs' Mountain", although in fact the name is more likely to derive from mons mercurei et mons martis, Hill of Mercury and Mars. After his head was chopped off, Denis is said to have picked it up and walked six miles, preaching a sermon the entire way, making him one of many cephalophores in hagiology. Of the many accounts of this martyrdom, this is noted in detail in the Golden Legend and in Alban Butler's Lives Of The Saints. The site where he stopped preaching and actually died was marked by a small shrine that developed into the Saint Denis Basilica, which became the burial place for the kings of France. Another account has his corpse being thrown into the Seine, but recovered and buried later that night by his converts.

Depiction in art

Denis' headless walk has led to his being depicted in art decapitated and dressed as a Bishop, holding his own (often mitred) head in his hands. Handling the halo in this circumstance poses a unique challenge for the artist. Some put the halo where the head used to be; others have Saint Denis carrying the halo along with the head. Even more problematic than the halo was the issue of how much of his head Denis should be shown carrying. Throughout much of the Middle Ages, the Abbey of St Denis and the canons of Notre-Dame Cathedral were in dispute over ownership of the saint's head. The Abbey claimed that they had the entire body, whilst the Cathedral claimed to possess the top of his head which, they claimed, had been severed by the executioner's first blow. Thus while most depictions of St Denis show him holding his entire head, in others, the patrons have shown their support for the Cathedral's claim by depicting him carrying just the crown of his skull, as, for example in the mid 13th century window showing the story at Le Mans Cathedral (Bay 111).

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Denis" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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