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When I started my retirement travels - the first of which was my solo overseas trip to Italy in 2009 - I wanted a way to share it with family and friends as it happened. Hence, "My Travel Journal". However I realized I wouldn't always be on a trip and wondered what to do with the blog in between times. My daughter pointed out, wisely, that travels can also include trips to the kitchen to try a new recipe, trips to visit family, trips to my neighborhood Starbucks, or a fun day trip with a friend. You're welcome to join me on any of these journeys!

P.S. I've set up separate pages for each of my major trips (see tabs above).

I recently added an "Italian Word a Day" thingie which shows up at the bottom of every page. You see the word and can click to hear it pronounced. I've been enjoying it and I think my accent is improving as time goes by.

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May 28, 2012

Monday - another very nice day

As usual, I spent a little too much time getting myself out of the apartment and then stopped for a pot of tea and a pain du chocolat (I love those things!)  And my tea must have been extra special - it cost 4.15E which is probably about $5.00!

But off I went on another long metro ride up to St. Denis, which is not only the name of the basilica there, but also the name of the town.  It's I guess basically a suburb of Paris or maybe an outer section of Paris that uses its own name sort of like some of the outlying areas in London I think.  Anyway, a totally uneventful trip and without bragging, I'm just real pleased with how I've been doing with the metro. :)  I had to buy a new batch of tickets today cause I only had one left!

I got there early enough that the town or whatever it is didn't really seem to be awake yet.  No one about and somehow kind of forlorn.  I'll throw in a picture or two here before I get to the basililca.  And I'll warn anyone who might read this, there are a LOT of pictures here.  If you get tired of the cathedral, just scroll on down - I went to the Champs Elysee area in the afternoon and have pictures of that too although not such an insane amount. :)

 First off, this greets you when you get off the metro in the St. Denis metro station - just so you know for sure where you are! :)  It's probably no more than 2 feet high, if that, and looks pretty old.
 A lot of the buildings were pretty - notin an ornate way but with a lot of decorative brick work or paintwork.  But overall, it all had a "dying town" feel to it.

Came around the corner and there was the basilica facing a very large, very empty square.  And, as usual, what I wanted to take a picture of had me shooting towards the sun, so not very good.

This church has a huge history behind it and I had a very difficult time trying to follow it and finally had to sort of give up.  But I do know that it stands on the site of a Gallo-Roman cemetery which held the tomb, apparently, of our beheaded St. Denis.  It was built in the 5th century and Dagobert was a benefactor to it in the 7th century and (I love this name) Pepin the Short was crowned king here in 754.  So that's way back there.  From the 6th century until the revolution, most all the kings, queens, princes, etc., were buried here.  It was a man named Suger, an Abbot of St. Denis, who built and rebuilt the existing structure and turned it into a masterpiece of what is now known as early Gothic.  It reached its present appearance in the 13th century.

I had read somewhere that a limited amount of the stained glass currently in the basilica is original and wanted to be sure to find out about that.  Plus I also wanted to be sure and figure out the just where St. Denis was/is - I've grown a little attached to him and he seems to be a predominant figure in this city.

So, when I got inside (pictures allowed!), here were all these gorgeous stained glass windows down the side of the building I was facing so I decided to take pictures of all 7 of them and then try and find out later what might be original.  What I found out later was that none of them were.  But they're so pretty, I'm just going to post them anyway.  The whole building is pretty much stained glass - some the story-telling type and some just beautiful repeat patterns.  Here are the 7 windows from that first side of the building:

and I've left the small size since they are all so similar plus having posted them, I see I must have lost track of one so there are six.

I had an English language little flyer they give you to guide you through the cathedral but I'm afraid for the most part, I was pretty much lost  Nothing seemed to match up with the guide and the signs that were posted by various recumbent statues of dead people either gave more names than there were statutes or vice versa.  At some point I realized I could have bought an audio guide which might have worked better but I just bumbled along.  The recumbent statues of dead people are, of course, for some of the kings and queens and other notables that were buried here.  The kind of horrifying thing is that during the French Revolution, the rebels opened all the tombs, took the skeletons and threw them in a mass grave.  Then at some point, Louis XVIII had them all gathered up and placed in an ossuary down in the crypt with three marble tablets listing the name of each one.  King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antionette were also transferred from a cemetery in Paris and buried in the Bourbon grave which is in the crypt.  King Louis XVIII, after getting everyone properly situated, was the last French king to be buried in St. Denis.  Turns out one reason so much of the original stained glass was lost was also because of those rebels - they melted the lead.

So here are various pictures of various recumbent statues of dead people along with a shot of the ossuary plaques and the Bourbon grave.

 The ossuary with one of these marble walls on each side and I'm guessing behind them are all the bones that were gathered up
 These two and the next ones list the names of all the people those bones belonged to.

 This one I'm fairly certain is Henri II and his wife, Catherine de Medici
And more...and this is just the tip of the iceberg - they were everywhere!  This place is vast so there's lots of space for lots of "stuff".

And this is the archeological crypt - which is like one floor down from the basilica crypt and is said to be the site of the tombs of St. Denis and the two men who were martyred with him, along with other burial sites  So, now I have followed him to his final resting place - from Sacre Coeur on the Mountain of Martyrs to St. Denis Basilica.

I also managed to figure out that the picture below is Dagobert's tomb (and I love his name too) and it is a beauty.
One other picture having to do with dead people and I think we're done with that part of the tour!  The glass container in the picture below holds, the guide says, the heart of King Louis XVII which seems kind of extreme.
 The next several pictures are from down in the crypt also and architectural details from the earliest parts of the building.

 I sure wonder what this was.  It's just in one of the chapels that curve around this lower part of the basilica.
 And this panel was hanging in one of those chapels with a big sign saying probably what it was all about, but, alas - I couldn't read it.
 Three of the 7 chapels.  And these all have stained glass windows also and this is where I found my original stained glass - more about that in a bit.

The base of an ancient column.

Now the original stained glass and this will probably bore any readers I might have, but I'm putting it here because I was so happy to finally figure it out.  I discovered that there are no whole windows that are original, but that instead, parts of an original window were useable enough that they were incorporated into reproductions of the original windows.  So with the little signs posted at each chapel, I was able to figure out which "medallions" were original in each panel.  All of chapels and the windows, etc., are in what is called Suger's crypt which also, the guide says, contains the sarcophagus of Queen Aregonde, the wife of King Clotaire.  She died between 580 and 590 and I would really have liked to find that but I saw nothing that remotely resembled a sarcophagus and no mention of that name.

So here are the windows with the ancient (12th century) medallions pointed out.  By the way, it was interesting once I caught on, because the old medallions are not nearly as crisp and clear as the newer 19th century ones and in most of them, the people's faces are brownish.

 In this panel, it's the one in the middle.

 In this one, called the Jesse tree, it's the third one up and the top one,

 In this panel, the bottom medallion and the fifth one up are 12th century

 In this panel, the very top pointed pane has a fragment of the original Jesse Tree window.

Now back upstairs to the basilica which is really very beautiful, in spite of its focus on dead people!  And I'll pretty much let the pictures do the talking. :)

 Not a word about this small statue of Mary and the babe anywhere, but I believe it's wood and very old.

 A much better picture than the one above, but in the one above, the setting is more visible.
And I must point out that this is the reliquary for relics of St. Denis and the two men martyred with him.  But it's not St, Denis's head in his (the middle) casket - it's a leg bone.
The back of Dagobert's tomb and a good look at all the twists and turns in this building - truly a masterpiece just as the guide says.

Now, I'm going outside and getting more pictures!
 Huh!  Miniatures...
 This door is in pretty sorry shape but even a good hosing down would help!  It's filthy with dust and dirt, as is the whole lower front basically.

 Big ol' flying buttresses...
 And St. Denis, obviously.  And I think the two other men martyred with him are next in line. 
These gargoyles are holding on to people which I've never seen before.  But then, I haven't seen all that many gargoyles up close.

And that is the end of St. Denis Cathedral.  But it wasn't the end of my day.  I needed another touristy thing to do cause it was too early to go home.  I looked at my Metro map to see where I might travel to and decided I would go to the stop for the Champs Elysee - I could see the Arc de Triomphe and also maybe get inside the glass roofed Grand Palais.  So that's what I did and oh, heaven, when I got off at my stop, it was 3 flights down from ground level and there was an up escalator for each flight!

The area around the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais is lovely - very shady and sunny, lots of flowers, trees, sunbathers, etc.  And of course, the two palais are over the top.  I decided against going in to the Grand Palais cause there was a huge line and it was completely in the very hot son.  Thought I'd go in the Petit Palais but couldn't see any signage saying where to get in.  So just took some pictures and then started down the Champs Elysee.

 I probably said in a previous post the the Grand Palais was never a palace - it was built for one of the World Expositions in the 1800's.

 Charles DeGaulle and I didn't plan it but I like the way the man walking along has pretty much the exact same stride.
 What I assumed was the front entrance but it seemed pretty locked up to me.  Beautiful though...
 Now starting up the Champs Elysee with lots of people enjoying the beautiful day.

 Weird cropping here - I wanted all the street left in to show the distance, so you have to look really hard to find the straight little thing sticking up way down there.  That's the odelisk with the gold top I saw back last Tuesday I think it was.  It's a straight shot from that, on the Place de le Concorde, down to the Arc de Triomphe.
 And I turned on my heel and took a shot of the Arc also.  A little more than halfway there.
 And there it is, yet another icon of Paris.  With lots of people on top.
 Just a beautiful building along the street.
And on the way home I decided to get off again at that underground mall and get me another iced tea cause I was HOT!!  I got off a stop too early and am glad I did because I got to see this building which has to be something special, but there was no signage indicating what.  There's a big statue in the courtyard but I was too weary to cross the street and see if it said anything.

And then home, some sushi for dinner, went out to the park for a bit but actually got too chilly!  I'm thinking Giverny tomorrow instead of Chartres - two cathedrals in two days is one too many!

And now it's 1:00 a.m. and I am off to bed!


Christopher said...

Such late hours you keep! :) What a day, though... I'm glad you went to St. Denis, even if it wasn't high on your list---the birthplace of Gothic is definitely something to take note of! Great photos throughout (as well as your walk later.) Clearly, by the time you're done, France/Paris will need to be moved higher up my "top 20" list of destinations than its current position!

Mary Lynne said...

Marlene wrote:
I liked all the St.Denis Cathedral pictures, especially the beautiful stained glass. Lucky you to get the man in stride with Charles de Gaulle! You are educating us all, Mary Lynne, with your photos and commentary!

Marlene - that stained glass is one reason there are so many pictures. Once Chris showed me the little button on my camera that lets me get good pictures of stained glass windows, I seem to have to take a picture of every one I see! Wish I had known the trick while in Italy. :)

And, yes, Chris - I think you would have a field day here aside from having to try and get your photos with about a thousand people milling around you!

Jamie said...

The cathedral reminds me of the cathedral Chris took us to in new York. Beautiful stained glass. Love the photos of the buildings. You are just tooling around like a champ! Be careful and keep the photos coming.

Sarah said...

Fabulous photos! Thanks for sharing,
Mary Lynne!!


January said...

I've never had a hankering to go to France before, but your virtual tours of these old cathedrals are really making me think it would be an excellent thing to do! That being said, the banner with the monks having a conversation about the detached tops of their heads is a little disturbing :)

Mary Lynne said...

Loved your comment about the tops of their heads and laughed out loud when I saw it. Cause that's exactly what I thought too. We all know St Denis lost his whole head but what is with these two guys? And the one on the left looks so pleasant - like he's saying "well, now if you'll take a look at mine, you'll see..." I may google a little and see if there's any mention of that anywhere. Or maybe I took pictures of some of the French explanation with the idea of getting them translated on line. I'll work on that tonight since I'm not going to write up Wednesday's post until Thursday.

See you soon and boy, am I glad!


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