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Chronological information : From the third to the early fifth century
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Saint-Denis in pictures
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Saint Denis -----------------------------------
Trades in the first millennium
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The tomb of Saint Denis
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A pillar from the chancel
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A grave from
the exterior necropolis
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The antefixes
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Long-distance trade
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The tomb of Saint Denis


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Crypte archéologique de la basilique
Archaeological crypt in the basilica.
In the foreground, a sarcophagus from the fourth-century necropolis abuts the pit dug at the site of Denis's grave. Behind, sculpted blocks reused for the foundation of the first basilica.
© UASD / J. Mangin.
It was long known that there were graves beneath the basilica: the first excavations were begun by the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (1814 - 1879)
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architect; Mérimée, the Inspector-General of Historic Monuments, entrusted him with the restoration of the churches of Vézelay, Notre-Dame, Amiens, and Reims. In 1846, he was appointed architect of the Saint-Denis basilica. He also wrote two analytical dictionaries on architecture and medieval furniture.
in the mid-nineteenth century. Nearly a century later, excavations were resumed within a much more scientific framework. Between 1953 and 1973, archaeologists Édouard Salin Édouard Salin (1889 - 1970)
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archaeologist, from a family of master blacksmiths from Lorraine. A connoisseur of metallurgic techniques, he specialized in the funerary archaeology of the High Middle Ages. From 1952 to 1957, he directed the archaeological exploration of the necropolis of Saint-Denis's basilica.
and Michel Fleury Michel Fleury (1923 - 2002)
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archivist-paleographer, vice president of Paris's Commission du Vieux-Paris, and Director of Historic Antiquities in Ile-de-France from 1965 to 1982. He directed the excavation of the square in front of Notre-Dame, the Cour Carrée at the Louvre and the necropolis of the Saint-Denis basilica.
studied more than five dozen graves in the necropolis.

Beneath the high altar, where, as tradition would have it, the body of the martyred saint lies, the two archaeologists uncovered a vast pit. This was quickly assumed to be the location of the grave of Saint Denis; however, there was no body in it, and the fill rubble contained only a few fragments of sarcophagi, roof tiles, and human and animal bones, associated with Roman-era potsherds.

The interpretation of this pit is still the subject of controversy-for Edouard Salin, the pit is evidence that the venerated grave was exhumed, but Michel Fleury sees it as the foundation for the tomb erected on the site of the grave.

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