“We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.”
- John Hope Franklin

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Seafood & St-Denis

Our FEAST!!!
November 11th was a national holiday here in Paris - not only was it Armistice Day, but also my "auntie"-to-be (although she hates to be called that!) Ana's birthday, so of course we had to celebrate! I joined Ana, her sister Susan and brother-in-law Ryan at an AMAZING Portuguese seafood restaurant in Boulogne (just outside Paris proper) called Pedra Alta. When she said we were going to have a feast, I had no idea how much food would actually be involved!

Me & the Birthday Girl, sizing up our dinner
A giant steaming platter of all types of seafood was delivered to our table - even with 4 people, we didn't even come close to finishing it all! Included in our sumptuous feast were lobsters, langoustes (smaller, spiny lobsters), langoustines (giant prawns which are slightly smaller than the langoustes), crabs, mussels, calamari and scallops. We also had bread, fries, and a giant pot of a spicy, saucy, Portuguese seafood and rice mixture. Throw in a bottle of Portuguese rosé and you've got yourself a meal most people only dream of...

Susan & Ryan, clearly very eager to dig in!
Thankfully they're one of the few restaurants around Paris that let you take your left-overs with you to eat later - actually, Pedra Alta's one of the few restaurants in the area where you actually have left-overs, since French portions are so much smaller you never have a problem finishing everything on your plate! Although we had to wait over an hour and a half to get a table, it was totally worth it and I'd recommend this place to anyone looking for some good seafood!

Autumn in the Jardin du Luxembourg
I happened to be in the vicinity of the Jardin du Luxembourg the other day and actually had some spare time - both my schools are in the area, but usually I'm in a hurry and don't have much time to stop and smell the flowers - so I decided to go for a stroll to appreciate the Fall scenery. I think the pictures speak for themselves!

I had been feeling a little nostalgic and was really missing the lovely Fall foliage I'm used to back home in New England - Paris is really brown during the Fall! - and was delighted to see a bit of color in the park!

Bare trees along the edge of the Senate building

The gardeners (jardiniers, en français) certainly keep busy here changing the flowers according to season, and the park was full of planters literally overflowing with Fall flowers - so pretty! 

And here's one other random picture I took the other night from my bedroom window. It has been foggy at night and during the early morning here the past few days, and due to the low-flying clouds, you can really see the glow of the city - guess they don't call Paris the "City of Lights" for nothing!

And now for my historical ramblings, I mean the "educational portion" of this post....

La Basilique de St-Denis
I've been making a "bucket list" of things I'm determined to do & see before leaving Paris, and among the many entries was a visit to the basilica of St-Denis.  Located in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis, the church is accessible after a 20-minute ride on the RER. It's known as the first building to be constructed in the Gothic style of the 12th century, as well as the burial place of French royalty.

View down the nave of the church
The church is a basilica, or a pilgrimage church, and was founded over a Gallo-Roman cemetery containing the tomb of St. Denis, who was the first bishop of Paris and was martyred around the year 250 AD. According to legend, St. Denis was beheaded in Paris at Montmartre (literally "the mountain of the martyr") and then proceeded to pick up his head and walk to St. Denis, indicating that he wanted to be buried there. Thus, he was buried here and the site became one worthy of pilgrimages.

St. Denis' now-empty tomb
A church was first built here during the 5th century, and then rebuilt in the 7th century under Dagobert, a king belonging to the Merovingian dynasty. Later on, in 754, Pépin le Bref ("the short") was anointed King here, and the church went on to become one of the most powerful medieval Benedictine abbeys, as well as the burial place for most of the French kings and queens since the 6th century.

Effigies of Pépin le Bref (back) and his queen, Berthe (front)
The church was again rebuilt during the 12th century under Abbot Suger and essentially became the first masterpiece of  Gothic architecture which was so popular during the Middle Ages, involving pointed arches, extremely high vaulting and lots of stained glass windows.

Stained glass windows depicting French kings & queens
St.-Denis' magnificent rose window
As St.-Denis was a pilgrimage church due to the fact that it was built over Saint Denis' tomb, and because it housed the tombs of French royalty, there would always be quite the influx of visitors coming to see and pray in front of the relics. The constant parade of pilgrims could be very disruptive to any religious services taking place as the people would have to essentially walk through the center of the services to have access to the various tombs that they had come to see. As part of Suger's redesign, a revolutionary new addition was included - the ambulatory. 
The general layout of St-Denis, in the form of a Latin cross
The ambulatory allows for pedestrian traffic to circulate around the main altar without interrupting the Mass, and also incorporates radiating apsidal chapels, which often each contained their own altars or areas for prayer and meditation. Mini-services could be held in each chapel while the larger, regularly-scheduled Masses occurred at the main altar, which allowed for more flexibility and ultimately more room to welcome visitors.

View of the altar, with ambulatory and side-chapels
Each radiating chapel in St-Denis has an altar, altarpiece and meditation object - often a statue or a relic. Pilgrims would often give a donation to the church upon viewing its relics, so it was important that medieval churches had ample room to accommodate its visitors, as they were a big source of revenue.

One of the apsidal chapels, complete with altar and altarpiece
Some of the chapels have been modernized today to house fancy confessionals, offices, and even some royal garb belonging to King Louis XVIII.

Louis XVIII's mantle, helmet, gloves, royal pointer, scepter, and crowns

Louis XVIII's crown
St-Denis houses over 70 tombs and gisants (recumbent statues representing the people inside the tombs), but at one point, 42 kings, 32 queens, 63 princes and princesses, and 10 famous French citizens were physically buried here.

Tomb of a king & queen
Thanks to the French Revolution, whose purpose was to overthrow and destroy any remnants of the monarchy, all of the graves here were looted and their contents dumped into a mass grave just outside. Revolutionaries then poured lime on the bones so that they would dissolve and thus be rendered unidentifiable, so today most of the tombs in the church are empty.  

Graves of Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI (center)
After the Revolution and during the restoration of the monarchy under Louis XVIII, the king ordered the mass grave to be searched and some royal bones were "found" and "identified" - although there was really no way to know whose bones they found at all. Supposedly they were the bones of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, the monarchs at the time of the Revolution, along with a few others, and they now are re-buried in the necropolis below the church. Something about the tombstones which were remade in the 1970's kind of kills the effect though.
Statues of King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette praying
Medieval carved capitals in the necropolis had the strangest images on them!
It was neat to wander around the church and see how the styles of funerary art evolved over the centuries, and it is amazing to see how big certain tombs actually are!

Another giant tomb, fit for a King (and Queen)
Effigies of Henri II and Catherine de Medecis
Behind the high altar


  1. Looks like a delicious feast Rach! Too bad you didn't know about that place sooner-it looks amazing and like something we could have eaten our way through! Great church pics too-kind of reminds you of St. Casimir's doesn't it?? Keep up the travels and the postings! Love them and you tons :)

  2. Hi Rach - def want the address to that restaurant for next time we are there! When do you come back home? It seems like you just got there. Hope you're enjoying it all!