Léon Bonnat: The martyrdom of Saint Denis (1880)

(Le Panthéon national, Paris, France)

Saint Denis is a Christian martyr from the third century. Denis was Bishop of Paris and made many conversions with his speeches. The local Roman priest were alarmed by this and had Denis together with his faithful companions the priest Rusticus and deacon Eleutherius executed. The three were beheaded on the highest hill in Paris (now Montmartre). Denis didn't agree with the place of his martyrdom and after Denis was beheaded, the corpse is said to have picked up his severed head and walked ten kilometers from the summit of the hill, preaching a sermon the entire way. He finally collapsed at the place were he wanted to be buried, the place were now the Basilica of St Denis stands (the burial place of the Kings of France). Saint Denis is the patron saint of France and Paris. Saint Denis is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers - a group of Saints which are "helpers is need", especially against various diseases. In his case, Denis offers protection/ help against frenzy, strife, headaches, hydrophobia and possessed people. His feast day is 9 October and in art he is usually depectied as a bishop carrying his severed head. The painting of Bonnat shows the corpse of Denis picking up his head, an angel brings him a palm leaf and a Laurel wreath. Both of these are symbols of a Christian martyr. The palm leaf is reference to the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem during which he was greeted palm leafs and stand for the victory of spirit over flesh. This fresco is from 1880.

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