Posted by: anna | October 22, 2009

St Denis of Paris

BL Arundel 91, f. 86 ‘ Passionale (Lives of the Saints) 21 September- 9 November. English, prob. Canterbury, 1st quarter of the 12th century. ‘Historiated initial ‘P'(ost) with Denis seated holding a staff and a book, with a naked man and a hybrid creature with a human body, horns, and goat’s feet, and dragons or serpents and an animal head entwined in the form of the letter, at the beginning of the passion of Denis, Rusticus and Eleutherius. In the margin are drawings of a bust and an animal similar to those in the letter.’

The Orthodox calendar seems to combine St Denis of Paris, Dionysius the Areopagite (disciple of Paul), and pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, who was not Dionysius disciple of Paul but did write the Areopagitica, who to any western medievalist are three different people… blargh… I will concentrate on the story of St Denis, bishop of Paris, and not address the confusion. But I am not entirely happy about it. I think David Farmer, in his dry way, is the clearest without being dismissive:

‘Denys (Dennis, Dionis, Dionysius) (d. c.250), bishop of Paris, patron of France. According to Gregory of Tours, Denys was born in Italy and sent to convert Gaul with five other bishops. He reached Paris, preached with great success, and established a Christian centre on an island in the Seine. His companions, Rusticus a priest and Eleutherius a deacon, were imprisoned and beheaded with him. Their bodies were recovered from the Seine; over their tomb was built the abbey of Saint Denis, later the burial-place of French kings. In the 9th century the cult received enormous impetus from the false identification, propagated by Hilduin, abbot of St. Denis, of this martyr with Pseudo-Denys the Areopagite, the influential Christian neo-Platonist of the 5th century. This writer claimed to be Dionysius the disciple of St. Paul, who came to the Christian faith after Paul’s discourse at Athens on the ‘Unknown God’ (Acts 17: 13–34). This conflation of three individuals into one led to a revision of the Legend of Denys, which made Clement of Rome responsible for sending him to France and anticipating the founding of Christianity in France to apostolic times. It also helped the cult of Denys, bishop of Paris, which resulted in England in the dedication of no fewer than forty-one ancient churches in his name. Four Benedictine abbeys kept his translation feast, including Wilton, where Edith built a chapel in his honour decorated with murals of his martyrdom. Feast: 9 October ; translation, 21 (22) April.’


  • Wikipedia
  • Orthodox Wiki
  • Catholic Encyclopedia
  • Holy Trinity Orthodox calendar
  • St Denis’ famous basilica (only recently a cathedral) on the outskirts of Paris is well known as the first major building in the European medieval Gothic style. It is well worth a visit (or more than one) but not on a Sunday, because while it is very nice to hear Mass there, you are not allowed to be a tourist there after the service. Which is fair enough.
  • a good BnF online exhibition about Carolingian treasures, with a page about literary, theological and artistic production at the abbey of St-Denis before the Gothic revolution.

Troparion (Tone 4)

Having learned goodness and maintaining continence in all things,
you were arrayed with a good conscience as befits a priest.
From the chosen Vessel you drew ineffable mysteries;
you kept the faith, and finished a course equal to His.
Bishop martyr Dionysius, entreat Christ God that our souls may be saved.

Saint Denis, priez pour nous!



  1. My late Father in law's name was Dennis, I guess it was his name's day.

    Holy St. Denis, pray to God for us.

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