Who was Saint Denis (Dennis)?

St. Denis

  • Bishop of Paris
  • Martyr
  • Born in Italy (little is known of the time or place, or of his early life)
  • Feastday is 9 October
  • Usually represented with his head in his hands because, according to the legend, after his execution the corpse rose again and carried the head for some distance

While still very young, he was distinguished for his virtuous life, knowledge of sacred things, and firm faith. Pope Fabian (236-250) sent him with some other missionary bishops to Gaul on a difficult mission. The Church of Gaul had suffered terribly under the persecution of the Emperor Decius and the new messengers of Faith were charged to restore it to its former prosperous condition. Denis, with his companions, the priest Rusticus and the deacon Eleutherius, arrived in the neighborhood of the present city of Paris and settled on the island in the Seine. The earliest document giving an account of his labors and of his martyrdom dating from the end of the sixth or the beginning of the seventh century and wrongly attributed to the poet Venantius Fortunatus, is interwoven with much legend, from which, however, the following facts can be gleaned:

On the island in the Seine, Denis built a church and provided for a regular solemnization of the Divine service. His brave and diligent preaching of the Gospel led to countless conversions, which aroused the envy, anger, and hatred of the heathen priests. They incited the populace against the strangers and demanded the governor Fescenninus Sisinnius to put a stop by force to the new teaching. Denis with his two companions were seized and as they persevered in their faith were beheaded (about 275) after many tortures. Later accounts give a detailed description of the confessors’ sufferings. They were scourged, imprisoned, racked, thrown to wild beasts, burnt at the stake, and finally beheaded. The bodies of the three holy martyrs received an honorable burial through the efforts of a pious matron named Catulla and a small shrine was erected over their graves; later replaced by a basilica.