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The royal family after the French Revolution.  Original English text from Cathedral Basilica of Saint-Denis in Centre Des Monuments Mationaux website.



The Revolution

Image: Wikipedia

The abbey was dissolved in 1792. In 1793, following the death of Louis XVI, Deputy Barère demanded the destruction of the “monuments to feudalism and the monarchy” in Saint-Denis. Thus the Revolution launched an attack on the symbolic powers of vestiges of the Ancien Régime. France was at war and needed metal for the manufacture of weapons.


*ベルトラン・バレール・ド・ヴューザック (1755-1841):フランスの政治家でジャーナリスト。革命期の公安委員会の最もよく知られた代議士。国王ルイ16世の裁判で尋問を行い、有名な言葉を残した。「自由の木は、暴君の血を注いで初めて成長する。」

The lead roof of the Basilica was melted down, as were several metal plaques and tombs. In Saint-Denis it was not the angry populace which carried out the destruction, but the government, the Convention, which in August 1793 hired an entrepreneur and workers to dismantle the tombs and destroy some of them.


In the autumn of 1793, the royal remains were exhumed and put into two mass graves excavated in the cemetery to the north of the abbey church, land which is now the Jardin Pierre de Montreuil. Armed with picks and crowbars the workers attacked the coffins. An official report on the exhumations was drawn up by a former Benedictine monk from Saint-Denis, Dom Poirier, a scrupulous and detached witness of the events. The first remains exhumed were those of Henri IV. The Vert-Galant was so well preserved by natural mummification that he was put on display for two days by a pillar in the crypt. Louis XIV was as black as ink. Louis XV had been carefully wrapped in linen and strips of material and seemed to be in good condition. But as soon as the body was lifted out it dissolved in “liquid putrefaction”. Today, none of these tombs contain any remains.

Image: saint-denis.monuments-nationaux.fr


After the exhumations the abbey became a storage warehouse. Chateaubriand, in his “Génie du Christianisme”, describes the ruin: “Saint-Denis is deserted. Birds fly in and out, grass grows on its smashed altars and all one can hear is the dripping of water through its uncovered roof”. The desire, never fulfilled, of Napoleon I to be buried there prompted restoration work to be undertaken from 1806. Services were resumed in 1802.


Louis XVIII and the return of the monarchy


In 1814, Louis XVIII ascended to the throne. The king commissioned relentless work on restoring to the basilica its character as a royal necropolis. He first ordered a search in the adjacent cemetery for the ashes of the kings exhumed by the Revolutionary authorities. After a week of work, several royal remains were unearthed and placed in an ossuary, which can still be seen in the crypt today.


On January 21, 1815, the anniversary of the death of Louis XVI, he decided to transfer to Saint-Denis, with great ceremony, from the cemetery of the Madeleine (now the Chapelle Expiatoire) the ashes of the guillotined king and of Marie-Antoinette. He also had returned the remains of Louis VII and Louise de Lorraine, the wife of Henri III. The six marble tombstones in the crypt were made in 1975 as a testimony of the re-burials. One of them, bearing no inscription, was intended to mark the grave of Charles X, the brother of Louis XVI and Louis XVIII, who died in exile in 1836 and was buried in a monastery in present-day Slovenia near Gorizia. It had been intended to return his ashes and remains some years ago but the plan came to nothing.

Image: Wikipedia


On June 8, 2004, the Mémorial de France organised the placing during a high mass of what was presumed to be the heart of Louis XVII, the son of XVI and Marie Antoinette, in the Bourbon family crypt. The symbolic date was chosen as a commemoration of the death of the “child of the Temple” on June 8, 1795, or 20 Prairial Year II of the Revolutionary calendar. The heart is now laid to rest in the cenotaph built at the request of his uncle and successor Louis XVIII.