(d. c. 250)

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(d. c.250),

bishop of Paris, patron of France. According to Gregory of Tours, Denys was born in Italy and sent to convert Gaul with five other bishops. He reached Paris, preached with great success, and established a Christian centre on an island in the Seine. His companions, Rusticus a priest and Eleutherius a deacon, were imprisoned and beheaded with him. Their bodies were recovered from the Seine; over their tomb was built the abbey of Saint Denis, later the burial-place of French kings. In the 9th century the cult received enormous impetus from the false identification, propagated by Hilduin, abbot of St Denis, of this martyr with Pseudo-Denys the Areopagite, the influential Christian neo-Platonist of the 5th century. This writer claimed to be Dionysius the disciple of St Paul, who came to the Christian faith after Paul's discourse at Athens on the ‘Unknown God’ (Acts 17: 13–34). This conflation of three individuals into one led to a revision of the Legend of Denys, which made Clement of Rome responsible for sending him to France and anticipating the founding of Christianity in France to apostolic times. It also helped the cult of Denys, bishop of Paris, which resulted in England in the dedication of no fewer than forty-one ancient churches in his name. Four Benedictine abbeys kept his translation feast, including Wilton, where Edith built a chapel in his honour decorated with murals of his martyrdom. Feast: 9 October; translation, 21 (22) April.

AA.SS. Oct. IV (1780), 865–987;S. McK. Crosby, The Abbey of St-Denis 475–1122, i (1942), esp, pp. 24–52;P. Peeters, ‘La Vision de Denys l'Aréopagite à Héliopolis’, Anal. Boll., xxix (1910), 301–22;R. J. Loenertz, ‘La Légende parisienne de S. Denys l'Aréopagite’, Anal. Boll., lxix (1951), 217–37;R. Bossuat, ‘Traditions populaires relatives au martyre et à la sépulture de Saint Denis’, Le Moyen-Âge, lxii (1956), 479–509;E. Colledge and J. C. Marler, ‘Céphalogie, a recurring theme in classical and medieval lore’, Traditio, xxxvii (1981), 11–26 and 418–19.

Subjects: Christianity — Literary Studies (Early and Medieval).

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