Royal tombs in the basilica of St Denis

25 March 2011

I love visiting the basilica at Saint Denis – it’s so unapologetically gloomy inside despite the sumptuously beautiful stained glass windows that allow rainbows of light to tumble onto the cold stone floor. It’s full of royal tombs, some stately but most relativel simple, all arranged with very little thought to aesthetics and basically crammed into every concievable nook and cranny of the transept.

Here, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette sleep for all eternity:

There’s something so profoundly sad and touching about the tombs of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette at Saint Denis. They are precisely where they should be – surrounded by family, but it’s horrible to think of the journey that brought them there.


How sad – a single pillar commemorating the memory of the boy king, François II, son of Cathérine de’ Medici and adolescent husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. His parents, Henri II and Cathérine lie nearby in their sumptuous tomb:

Henri and Cathérine, united in death.

The tombs are amazing – at the top they have the king and queen as they would have been in life, decorously kneeling at prayer and dressed in all their regal splendour. Underneath though is very different, with stark marble sculptures that show them naked and vulnerable in death.

Behind the tomb of Henri II and Cathérine de’ Medici there is that of Louis XII (later husband to Henry VIII’s sister Mary) and his Queen, Anne of Brittany.

On the other side of the basilica you can see the stately tomb of Louis and Anne’s daughter Claude de France and her husband, François I, who were the parents of Henri II.

You can also see the tomb of Henri IV and Marie de’Medici, parents of Henrietta Maria of England.

Underneath the main basilica there is the crypt, which has even more tombs including these sad plaques to the unfortunate sons of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette:

Among the royal plaques downstairs, you can also see one for Louis XIV. It’s strange that the most famous and magnificent of all the French kings doesn’t have a big flashy tomb like the ones in the transept isn’t it?

Strange isn’t it? If you want to read more about the tomb of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, I have another post here! I also have a more in depth one about the tomb of Louis XII and Anne of Brittany.

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