The Martyrs' Mountain

Saint Denis at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris
The Saint Denis statuary at Notre Dame Cathedral.

St. Denis, known as the first bishop of Paris and the patron saint of France, is credited as the first martyr of Christendom. Sent by the early outlaw Christian church of ancient Rome in 250 A.D. his mission was to convert the Romans who had settled in central Gaul, in present day France.

Denis through his energy and sincerity, managed to convert a significant number of inhabitants of Lutece, in present day Paris, a phenomenon that shocked the local authorities and pagan priests.

Roman Governor of Gaul Sisinnius Fesceninus, acting under Emporer Valerius' edict to kill Christians, arrested Denis and his friends Eleutherius and Rusticus ordering them to submit to Roman authority and bow before the state religion.

The trio refused and were promptly imprisoned and tortured. The governor ordered their execution at the temple of Mercury atop the highest hill in Paris as a warning to the Christians that St. Denis had inspired.

The legend of St. Denis becomes very interesting at this point in the story. According to a medival compilation of religious figures, told in the Golden Legend, Roman legionnaires marched to the temple with the condemned men but decided to kill Denis halfway up the hillside by chopping off his head - the common method of execution of the time.

Denis, having no intention of cutting the trip short, after being decapitated, picked up his fallen head and continued up the hill preaching a sermon.

On the north side of the descending slope, Denis finally fell to his knees before a recently converted woman named Catulla and died. She buried him there in a Christian ceremony. Sprigs of wheat were said to immediately spring from his grave site.

The martyrdom of St. Denis, as well as the practice of slaughtering of Christians in the area, resulted in renaming this hill the Montmartre or "The Martyrs' Mountain".

The lesson of St. Denis is the inspiration of all men and martyrs: that men can kill men, but no man can kill an idea.

Wikipedia, Saint Denis

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