Listening to Vibrations from the Stones of Saint-Denis

By Mariachiara Ficarelli

Dealing with mediums is not included in the job-description of a docent of the Basilica of Saint-Denis. But after four years of working in Saint Denis, Amadine Deschamps, a 26 year-old archeologist, is accustomed to managing all the different kinds of tourists who wander inside.

“There are personne fou who come to listen to the vibrations of these stones,” says Amadine, pointing to the tomb of Charles Martel, a French prince buried in the abbey. “They think they can enter into communication with the dead.”

Most days, though, Amadine only has to handle the children that pinch the toes of the effigies carved on the tombs.

When Amadine graduated from Sorbonne University with a Masters in archeology, she looked for jobs that would “make her dream”. Yet, in France such “jobs of culture” are difficult to come across. Saint-Denis was an appealing opportunity for Amadine, as it allows her to pursue her passion in material culture, while still earn a decent living.

“We are not your image of a sleeping old man in a chair,” says Elliot Boulate, another docent.

The team of docents of the Basilica is young. The average age is 33 years old. These urban intellectuals stand at odds with the aging population that usually characterizes the workers of religious spaces around the city.

Elliot’s story is in a similar vain to that of Amadine’s. Planning to do a PhD in medieval studies, Elliot needs to save some money before continuing with his education.

“I am lucky that I get to spend my weekends surrounded by royalty,” Elliot says, referring to the more than 70 tombs of noble French men and women found in the Basilica.

These academics have found refuge from the burdens of unemployment within the basilica. Working in Saint-Denis is not just any temporary job. The Basilica offers a wealth of intellectual stimulation for its youthful safe-keepers. The supervisor of Amadine and Elliot allows them to study and engage with the Basilica in whichever way they like.

“I have the entire history of France right here!” says Amadine. “I keep uncovering new secrets all the time.

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