Montmartre, the “Mount of Martyrs”
- From the dawn of time Montmartre has been a place of worship : from the Druids of ancient Gaul, through the Romans with their temples dedicated to Mars and Mercury, to the Church of Saint Peter, the oldest in Paris, rebuilt in the 12th century next to the Royal Abbey of Montmartre by Louis VI and his wife Adélaïde de Savoie… Finally, the Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur, erected at the end of the 19th century. Today, this shrine of prayer remains faithful to its tradition: God is well and truly present!
- Through Saint Geneviève, who lived in the 5th century, we learn of the existence of Saint Denis. Thanks to her this first Bishop of Paris entered the annals of history, for in the life story of Saint Geneviève written by one of her contemporaries in 475 it is related that she persuaded the people of Paris to erect a chapel on the site where he was martyred. Saint Denis, first Bishop and Martyr of Paris, as well as his legend, illustrate this period when the disciples of Christ triumphed “not by fighting, but by dying”.
- The original chapel built on the mound in honour of Saint Denis fell into ruin in the 9th century. It was subsequently rebuilt, as the hill of Montmartre was a popular place of pilgrimage. Apart from Saint Denis, the remains of a large number of anonymous Christians martyred during the persecutions were venerated, thus contributing to the hill being called the Mount of Martyrs (Mont des Martyrs - Montmartre).
- In 1559 a fire destroyed a large part of the abbey of the Benedictines of Montmartre located at the summit of the mound and from then on the misfortunes increased, until 1611 when Marie de Beauvilliers, who had governed the abbey for almost sixty years, undertook the restoration of the Martyrium on the side of the hill. Around this chapel a new abbey known as the lower abbey was built, which was connected to the upper abbey by a long, vaulted gallery.
- During construction, on 11 July 1611, a staircase was discovered that led to an ancient crypt that was said to have been sanctified by Saint Denis. This discovery caused a sensation. Marie de Médicis and over sixty thousand people came to the site, setting off a new wave of devotion.
- At the end of the 14th century the French King Charles VI, after being cured of an attack of madness and after miraculously escaping the flames of a fire, made a pilgrimage of thanksgiving to the Martyrium of Montmartre.
- At the beginning of the 15th century, when Paris was the scene of the bloody struggle between the Armagnacs and Burgundians, the butchery and pillage were such that the parishes of the city came in procession to the hill of Montmartre to ask Saint Denis to save the capital.
- In 1525, when François Ist was taken prisoner by the Spanish at the battle of Pavia, the people of Paris thronged to Montmartre to pray to the patron saint of the kingdom to end the great desolation.
On 15 August 1534, Saint Ignatius, Saint Francis-Xavier and their companions founded the Society of Jesus.
- For centuries the Abbey of Montmartre was a centre of intense religious life and a place of pilgrimage. In 1792 the Benedictines were dispersed by the French revolutionaries and the monastery was razed. The last Abbess, Marie-Louise de Montmorency-Laval, mounted the scaffold on 24 July 1794 and her blood gave rise to the miraculous resurrection of religious life that took place eighty years later on the sacred mound.
The only surviving part of the abbey of the Ladies of Montmartre is Saint Peter’s church, whose choir served as a chapel for the nuns.
Crypt of the Martyrium (Open Friday afternoons)
11, rue Yvonne le Tac 75018 Paris
Tel : 01 42 23 48 94