According to Christian tradition, Saint Denis (also called Dionysius, Dennis, or Denys) is a Christian martyr and saint. In the third century, he was Bishop of Paris. He was martyred in connection with the Decian persecution of Christians, shortly after 250 CE. He is venerated in the Roman Catholic Church as patron of Paris, France, and as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. The medieval and modern French name “Denis” derives from the ancient name Dionysius. He is patron of France, Paris, against frenzy, strife, headaches, hydrophobia, San Dionisio (Parañaque City), possessed people
Gregory of Tours states that Denis was bishop of the Paris and was martyred by being beheaded by a sword. The earliest document giving an account of his life and martyrdom, the “Passio SS. Dionysii Rustici et Eleutherii” dates from c. 600, is mistakenly attributed to the poet Venantius Fortunatus, and is legendary. Nevertheless, it appears from the Passio that Denis was sent from Italy to convert Gaul in the third century, forging a link with the “apostles to the Gauls” reputed to have been sent out under the direction of Pope Fabian. This was after the persecutions under Emperor Decius had all but dissolved the small Christian community at Lutetia. Denis, with his inseparable companions Rusticus and Eleutherius, who were martyred with him, settled on the Île de la Cité in the River Seine. Roman Paris lay on the higher ground of the Left Bank, away from the river.
Denis, having alarmed the pagan priests by his many conversions, was executed by beheading on the highest hill in Paris (now Montmartre), which was likely to have been a druidic holy place. The martyrdom of Denis and his companions is popularly believed to have given the site its current name, derived from the Latin mons martyrium “The Martyrs’ Mountain,” although the name is possibly derived from mons mercurei et mons martis, Hill of Mercury and Mars. After his head was chopped off, Denis is said to have picked it up and walked ten kilometres (six miles) from the summit of the hill, preaching a sermon the entire way, making him one of many cephalophores in hagiology (look the words up !!). Of the many accounts of this martyrdom, this is noted in detail in the Golden Legend and in Butler’s Lives Of The Saints. The site where he stopped preaching and actually died was marked by a small shrine that developed into the Saint Denis Basilica, which became the burial place for the kings of France.
Veneration of Saint Denis began soon after his death. The bodies of Saints Denis, Eleutherius, and Rusticus were buried on the spot of their martyrdom, where the construction of the saint’s eponymous basilica was begun by Saint Geneviève, assisted by the people of Paris. Her Vita Sanctae Genovefae attests the presence of a shrine near the present basilica by the close of the fifth century.
A successor church was erected by Fulrad, who became abbot in 749/50 and was closely linked with the accession of the Carolingians to the Merovingian throne.
In time, the “Saint Denis”, often combined as “Montjoie! Saint Denis!” became the war-cry of the French armies. The oriflamme, which became the standard of France, was the banner consecrated upon his tomb. His veneration spread beyond France when, in 754, Pope Stephen II, who was French, brought veneration of Saint Denis to Rome. Soon his cultus was prevalent throughout Europe. Abbot Suger removed the relics of Denis, and those associated with Rustique and Eleuthére, from the crypt to reside under the high altar of the Saint-Denis he rebuilt, 1140-44.
In traditional Catholic practice, Saint Denis is honored as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. Specifically, Denis is invoked against diabolical possession and headaches, and with Sainte Geneviève is one of the patron saints of Paris.
October 9 is celebrated as the feast of Saint Denis and companions, a priest named Rusticus and a deacon, Eleutherius, who were martyred alongside him and buried with him. The feast of Saint Denis was added to the Roman Calendar in the year 1568 by Pope Pius V, although it had been celebrated since at least the year 800.
Denis’ headless walk has led to his being depicted in art decapitated and dressed as a Bishop, holding his own (often mitred) head in his hands. Handling the halo in this circumstance poses a unique challenge for the artist. Some put the halo where the head used to be; others have Saint Denis carrying the halo along with the head.
Here’s a classic French dish honoring St Denis. It can be made in several ways, but this is classic. You can poach the eggs if you like. You can also use Marchand de vin sauce in place of the one here. This a red wine reduction with demi glace and shallots (pictured with beef). At one time this was a popular dish in New Orleans.
Eggs St Denis
¾ cup chopped lean ham
4 tbsp chopped green onion
1 tbsp chopped cooked liver
2 tbsp chopped mushrooms
6 slices boiled ham
2 tbsp butter
Dash white wine or lemon juice
6 slices toast
salt and pepper
oil for frying
Make the sauce by gently sautéing the ham, green onion, liver, and mushrooms together in butter. Add the wine or lemon juice and heat through. Keep warm.
Heat a ½ inch of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Break each egg into a saucer. Then slide them one by one eggs into the oil. Keep turning each egg over with perforated turner to keep them round and to get the whites to cover yolks.
Place a slice of ham and an egg on slices of buttered toast and pour the sauce over.
You can cook these to order, which I find better than cooking them all before serving.