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About AD 286

General Information


Saint's Day - October 9

Patron Saint of France

Depictions of Saint Denis:S. Denys is represented in art as a bishop, holding his head in his hands, sometimes also with a sword.

Text from The Lives of the Saints
by Rev. S. Baring-Gould
New and Revised Edition.
Edinburgh; John Grant:, 1914. BR> Volume 11, Pages 195-7

Headings added by J. Vadnal

The conflation with Saint Dionysius the Areopagite and the accounts of his life

The Roman Martyrology confounds Dionysius of Paris with Dionysius the Areopagite. So also the Gallican Martyrologies, and all Martyrologies since the time of Hilduin, abbot of S. Denys, d. 814. The Acts of the Martyrdom of S Dionysitls and his companions in Bosquet, and those published by Felibian, are founded on popular legend or the forgery of Hilduin, and are historically worthless.

Founds the church in France and is martyred

S. DIONYSIUS, according to the story which passes for history, was sent by S. Clement, on whom S. Peter had conferred the bishopric of Rome, to found the Church in Gaul. He came to Lutetia Parisiorum, a city destined to become the capital of France, and there preached the Word. The narrative of Hilduin is somewhat fuller. Dionysius was an Athenian, the disciple of Hierotheus, and was consecrated bishop of Athens by S. Paul. Having visited Jerusalem for the purpose of seeing the B. Virgin, he found her so beautiful that he felt disposed to worship her. He then went to Ephesus, where he conferred with S. John the Evangelist, and after that journeyed to Rome, where he received commission from S. Clement to evangelize the Parisians. At Paris he was exposed to wild beasts, but they came and licked his feet. This miracle, far from converting the Parisians, exasperated them to redoubled fury, and they cast him into a burning fiery furnace, whence he, however, issued unharmed, like Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego. The exasperated Parisians then crucified him, but he preached to them from his cross. He was taken down and led back to prison, along with his companions Rusticus and Eleutherius, his deacon and subdeacon. The three prisoners were executed with the sword, on the hill afterwards called, from the event, " The Martyr's Mount," Montmartre. The hill really derives its name from the god Mars-it was Mons Martis. Hilduin adds that the body of S. Denys got up, took its ex-head in its hands, and, accompanied by a choir of angels singing " Alleluia," carried it to the place where now stands the abbey of S. Denys.

Identification with the Roman God Dionysius?

The first to mention S. Denys, or Dionysius of Paris, is S. Gregory of Tours, d. 594, three hundred years after his death. But this is not the most serious objection to the reception of the story. It has been argued that the worship of Dionysus (Bacchus), the god of the grape, was established at Paris, and that the great festival of Dionysus, singularly enough coincides with that of the saint of the same name, in October, the season of the vintage.

Dionysus was surnamed Eleutheros, as the founder of the first mysteries, and two festivals were celebrated in his honor, one in the city, urbana, the other in the fields, rusticia. During these feasts a day was dedicated to Demetrius, King of Macedon, who gave to Dionysus his daughter Aura-Placida (" the light breeze ") as wife. Now curiously enough, on October 4th was venerated S. Aura, V., Abbess, at Paris; on October 5th S. Placidus, Mk. M.,' on October 7th S. Bacchus, M., on October 8th S. Demetrius, M., on October 9th SS. Dionysius, Eleutherius, and Rusticus, and again a S. Demetrius. Till last century, the festival of the vintage, the legacy of the old pagan feast, was celebrated at Paris on the 8th and 9th of October, and it has been thought that as on this occasion wine made the merry-makers lose their heads, the fable of the martyrdom of S. Dionysius had reference to this phenomenon. But this argument is too plausible to satisfy. S. Placidus, though much fable has attached to his name, was a real personage, so was S. Aura, abbess at Paris in A.D. 63I. Her existence as a real person and not as an embodiment of pleasant breezes, can be very satisfactorily established. The S. Demetrius of October 9th was Bishop of Alexandria, and pronounced sentence of exile on Origen. It is quite possible that there may have been a Dionysius, bishop and apostle of the Parisians.

The Acts, it must be admitted, suspiciously recall the martyrdom of Zagreus-Dionysus.

Traces of Saint Denys

One of the first converts of Dionysius is said to have been a Parisian noble named Lisbius; the Montmorencys derive their pedigree from this personage, whence their battle cry and motto: " Dieu aide au premier Chrétien." The mansion of Lisbius became the home of S. Denys; it was afterwards converted into a church and is now S. Barthélemy, before the Palais de Justice. Hilduin, Abbot of S. Denys, when he forged the acts of S. Dionysius, pretended that they were written by Visbius, son of Lisbius. The battle cry of the French kings, " Montjoie Saint-Denys !" is said to have originated with Clovis, who shouted, " Mon Jou Saint Denys ! "-My Jove shall be S. Denys.


Before the Revolution the bodies of SS. Denys, Rusticus, and Eleutherius were preserved in three silver shrines in the Abbey of S. Denis. The bones were saved by a monk named Warenflot, and restored to the abbey church in 1819. The entire skull of S. Denys also at Longpont in the diocese of Soissons. Other relics at Ratisbon.

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Updated by Jane Vadnal, August, 1998