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Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/St Denis

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DENIS, or Dionysius, St, the patron saint of France, flourished in the middle of the 3d century. What is known of his life rests chiefly on the not altogether trustworthy authority of Gregory of Tours, according to which he was the leader of a band of seven missionaries who came from Rome to Gaul, and founded churches in seven cities. Denis settled in Paris, where he made many converts, and became the first Christian bishop. In 272, during the persecution of Valerian, he was beheaded along with some of his companions. Another account places the date of the martyrdom between 286 and 290. The well-known legend, according to which St Denis after his decapitation walked two miles with his head in his hands, probably originated in a mistaken interpretation of pictures intended to indicate the manner of his death. It was not unusual to represent a martyr by decapitation bearing his head in his hands as an offering, and there are effigies of St Denis with the mitred head in its natural position and the head in the hands as well. The bodies of the three martyrs were thrown into the River Seine, but were afterwards recovered and honourably buried by a Christian lady named Catalla, not far from the place where they suffered. Over the tomb a chapel was built, which in the 5th century was replaced by a church. The famous abbey of St Denis was founded on the same spot by Dagobert in the 7th century. A later legend of the French church, following the tradition of the Greek Church, identified St Denis of Paris with Dionysius the Areopagite, who was converted by St Paul. One of the gravest charges brought against Abelard was the fact that he denied this identity on the authority of a passage in Bede. St Denis was gradually adopted as the patron saint of the French people, St Louis being the patron saint of the royal family. His festival is celebrated on the 9th October.