In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Saint-Denis

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Exhibition Catalogues
  • Foundation and Merovingians (3rd Century–751)
  • Carolingians and Early Capetians (751–1121)
  • Time of Abbot Suger (1122–1151)
  • Later Capetians (1151–1328) and After
  • Royal Ideology and Historiography

Medieval Studies Saint-Denis
Robert F. Berkhofer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 December 2010
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 December 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0100


The monastery of Saint-Denis, just north of Paris along the Seine River, was dedicated to Denis (Dionysius), the 3rd-century Apostle of Gaul and the first bishop of Paris. The significance of Saint-Denis derives not merely from its foundational importance to the French church, but from the very close relationship with the kings of France throughout the Middle Ages. The vast majority of the medieval kings came to be buried at the abbey church, a tradition traced back to the Merovingians. Although the monastery was associated with the rise of the Carolingian dynasty, it was eclipsed under the early Capetians. However, even stronger links to the kings were forged in the dynamic Time of Abbot Suger (r. 1122–1151), which guaranteed its enduring importance under the Later Capetians (1151–1328) and after, with a disproportionate influence over Capetian royal ideology and historiography. The rebuilding of the abbey church in the early 12th century, under the supervision of Abbot Suger, made the monastery an important (some scholars would say the leading) European center for the early Gothic style. In consequence, the art and architecture of the abbey church has been intensively studied by art historians and archeologists. Close links with the Crown meant that the church itself became a focus of antiroyal sentiment during the French Revolution. The consequent damage of the church and the nationalization of its records and property, as well as some misguided attempts at preservation and restoration in the 19th and 20th century, have sometimes impaired modern scholarship. Because of its importance to the French kingdom, Saint-Denis has been the subject of numerous exhibition catalogues.

General Overviews

Those seeking a basic summary should use the short encyclopedic entries Bur 1977–1999, Clark 1995, and Beaune 2000. Bourderon 1998 provides a traditional narrative history. An illustrated history, with emphasis on art and architecture, can be found in the convenient Romero 1992. Archeological digs (ongoing since the end of World War II), have provided a new context for scholarship about the monastery, as well as the town and the development of the Parisian region; for an intriguing point of entry, see Saint-Denis: A Town in the Middle Ages, under the direction of Wyss and Rodrigues.

  • Bourderon, Roger, ed. Histoire de Saint-Denis. Rev. ed. Pays et Villes de France. Toulouse, France: Privat, 1998.

    Originally published in 1977; general history of the town and monastery of Saint-Denis, divided chronologically with each section written by a specialist.

  • Beaune, Colette. “Saint-Denis.” In Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages. Vol. 1. Translated by Adrian Walford. Edited by André Vauchez, Barrie Dobson, and Michael Lapidge, 1277–1279. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000.

    Short descriptive chronology of major events; English translation with revisions of French and Italian editions from 1997.

  • Bur, Michel. “Saint-Denis.” In Lexicon des Mittelalters. Vol. 7. Edited by Robert Auty, et al., 1145–1148. Munich, Germany: Artemis-Verlag, 1977–1999.

    Brief chronology of major events; in German. Brepolis Encyclopaedic Works is available online.

  • Clark, William W. “Saint-Denis.” In Medieval France: An Encyclopedia. Edited by William W. Kibler and Grover A. Zinn, 836–838. New York: Garland, 1995.

    Brief history of the monastery, particularly good on the development of art and architecture; useful short bibliography.

  • Romero, Anne-Marie. Saint-Denis: Emerging Powers. Translated by Azizeh Azodi. Paris: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), 1992.

    Official historical guidebook to Saint-Denis, particularly useful for its parallel discussion of myth and historical/archeological facts; color illustrations and brief bibliography. More recent French version published in 1997.

  • Wyss, Michaël, and Nicole Meyer Rodrigues, eds. Saint-Denis: A Town in the Middle Ages.

    Official website of the town, maintained by Unité d’Archéologie de la Ville de Saint-Denis’s educational programs outreach. Extensive pictures of church, archaeological excavations, and town, which are intended as virtual tours for students. Link is to the English version, but the French version is updated more frequently.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.