Restoring Saint Denis

By: Katie Petersen

Amid the famous Gothic architecture and stained glass Christian scenes of the Basilica of Saint Denis, something is missing. Some things, actually. High on one window, a wooden board panel replaces a piece of the colorful story. On the opposite wall, an entire rose window is substituted by translucent white glass. Outside and high above the heads of ogling tourists, the left tower is nowhere to be seen.

Some window panels are being repaired because the glass itself is damaged (most are from the 19th century, with some dating back to the 12th, according to PhD student and Saint Denis tour guide Elliot Boulate). Some, like the rose window panels, have been temporarily replaced because their supporting structures have become unstable.

When asked if the tower and stained glass panels will be restored and reinstated soon, Boulate is not optimistic. He is clearly passionate about the history of the church, but says, “Even if we have a very dense historical monument and very old, we are not one of the top tourist place in Paris, so we don’t have a lot of money for that.”

He gestures to a statue of Charles V in the corner as an example: “We thought for years that the lions at his feet had been destroyed. In fact, they have been discovered again; it was in a private collection in the UK and it will be sold at Christie’s [one of the world’s leading auction houses] next summer.” At first, this sounds like great news. “But we don’t have any money to buy them,” Boulate laments, “so it probably will be the British museum that will be the acquirer for those lions.”

A lack of funding stems from a lack of traffic, Boulate explains, so “we are trying to attract more and more people.”

To that end, while some of the classic pieces like stained glass windows and Gothic towers are missing, the church has been creatively bringing in other attractions.

A recently introduced art exhibition, entitled “Mater: Reines de France,” or Mother: Queens of France, features local Saint Denis women draped in silky, white fabric as modern reinterpretations of the classice ‘mourning mother.’
Additionally, Boulate shares, the church organizes a classical music concert in June dubbed the “Festival of Saint Denis” and hosts guided school tours to raise revenue.


For the sake of preserving history, the curators of the Basilica of Saint Denis are looking to bring new life to a final resting place for French royalty.

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