In the 12th century, Abbot Suger placed an inscription on the bronze doors here: "Marvel not at the gold and expense, but at the craftsmanship of the work." France's first Gothic building that can be precisely dated, St-Denis was constructed between 1137 and 1281 and was the "spiritual defender of the State" during the reign of Louis VI ("the Fat"). The facade has a rose window and a crenellated parapet on the top similar to the fortifications of a castle. The stained-glass windows -- in stunning mauve, purple, blue, and rose -- were restored in the 19th century.

The first bishop of Paris, St. Denis became the patron saint of the monarchy, and royal burials began here in the 6th century and continued until the Revolution. The sculpture designed for the tombs -- some two stories high -- spans French artistic development from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. (There are guided tours in French of the Carolingian-era crypt.) François I was entombed at St-Denis, and his funeral statue is nude, though he demurely covers himself with his hand. Other kings and queens here include Louis XII and Anne de Bretagne, as well as Henri II and Catherine de Médici. Revolutionaries stormed through the basilica during the Terror, smashing many marble faces and dumping royal remains in a lime-filled ditch in the garden. (These remains were reburied under the main altar during the 19th c.) Free organ concerts are given on Sundays at 11:15am.

The Royal Heart of the Boy Who Would Be King -- In a bizarre twist, following a Mass in 2004, the heart of the 10-year-old heir to the French throne, Louis XVII, was buried at Saint-Denis Basilica, near the graves of his parents, Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. The heart was pickled, stolen, returned, and 2 centuries later, DNA tested. More than 2 centuries of rumor and legend surrounding the child's death were put to rest. Genetic testing has persuaded even the most cynical historians that the person who might have been the future Louis XVII never escaped prison. The boy died of tuberculosis in 1795, his body ravaged by tumors. The child's corpse was dumped into a common grave, but not before a doctor secretly carved out his heart and smuggled it out of prison in a handkerchief. The heart of the dead boy was compared with DNA of hair trimmed from Marie Antoinette during her childhood in Austria. It was a perfect match.