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Soft pleasure's soul-pervading influence
Ne'er unnerved thy stern purpose, weaned from sense,
Thy soul, that thou didst tread on earthly care,
S. Denys, Bishop and Martyr.
END OF THE THIRD CENTURY.
THE early history of Christianity in Gaul is involved in great uncertainty. According to some authorities, it was first preached by S. Paul, while others give the honour to Crescens, one of his disciples, or to S. Luke. S. Pothinus, the first bishop of Lyons, is supposed to have been a scholar of S. Polycarp, as S. Irenæus, his successor in the see, certainly was. Pothinus, with a noble company of Christians in Lyons and Vienne, was crowned with martyrdom in the year 177. Hence Gaul offered her first-fruits to Christ before either Africa or Spain.
After the passion of the holy Irenæus in 202, the Churches of Gaul seem to have suffered much in the persecutions of Severus and his successors. So that
even in the southern provinces, the light of faith was nearly extinguished. About the year 245, S. Fabian Bishop of Rome, taking pity on their forlorn condition, sent seven missionary bishops into Gaul, with a number of inferior clergy. They were not at first appointed to any particular sees, but received a commission to preach throughout the country. They afterwards founded the sees of Tours, Arles, Narbonne, Toulouse, Paris, Clermont, and Limoges. Among them was S. Denys or Dionysius, the future bishop of Paris. They arrived probably together, or within a short time of each other.
When S. Denys landed at Arles, he found a few Christians there, among whom he stayed for a little time, to encourage them, and, as some say, to consecrate a church. He then proceeded towards the northern provinces, attended by S. Lucian of Beauvais, S. Quintin of Amiens, S. Crispin of Soissons, and other blessed confessors. He fixed his episcopal seat at Paris, while they carried the Gospel into still more distant parts. He converted many by his discourses, and by the evidence of miracles. In the course of time a church was consecrated, and a body of clergy was ordained to its service. Bishops were sent to Chartres, Senlis, Meaux, and other places. At length the storm of persecution fell upon the infant Church, and S. Denys was enrolled among its early martyrs; SS. Rusticus and Eleutherius, his priest and archdeacon, suffered along with him. Whether this event happened in 273, during the reign of Aurelian, or seventeen years afterwards, while Maximian was in Gaul, is not certainly known. The latter date seems the more probable. The bodies of
the martyrs were ordered to be thrown into the Seine, lest the Christians should bury them with honour. But they were rescued from the hands of the soldiers by a woman, and were deposited in a secret place about six miles from Paris.
When peace was restored to the Church, the same devoted woman built a tomb over their remains. At the earnest request of S. Geneviève in the fifth age, a stately church was erected on the place, which became famed for miracles. This holy virgin had a special devotion to the memory of S. Denys, and used often to visit his tomb, even during the night. King Dagobert founded a monastery in the same place, in 629. Pepin and his son Charlemagne were liberal benefactors to it. It was rebuilt with great magnificence by the abbat Suger, prime minister of king Louis VII. in the twelfth century. The relics of the holy martyrs were long preserved in three silver shrines. In the ninth century they were twice removed, to Nogent, and to Rheims, for fear of the barbarians. Pope Stephen II. was lodged in the abbey of S. Denys, on his visit to France in the reign of Pepin, and was cured of a dangerous sickness at the tomb of the saint. Out of gratitude, he endowed the house with many privileges. The festival of S. Denys and his companions is marked in all the martyrologies, on the ninth of October. Their names are invoked in ancient litanies, and are inserted in the Canon of the Mass, in a Sacramentary of S. Martin of Tours, as it is called, but which was compiled during the reign of Charles the Bald in the ninth age.
S. Denys has ever been considered as the patron
of the kings of France.
On the eve of all their ex
peditions, they went in state to the abbey which bears his name, to implore his assistance. And on their
prosperous return, their first act was to give thanks in the same manner. The standard of S. Denys, commonly called the Oriflamme, or Auriflamme, is celebrated in medieval history. K. Philip I., in the eleventh century, seems to have been the first who caused it to be borne before him in war. This custom lasted till the time of Charles VII., who, after the expulsion of the English from France, adopted the white banner, which has ever since been used as the royal standard'. The war-cry of Montjoye S. Benys, with which the kings of France animated their troops on the onset of battle, often resounded on the plains of Palestine, in the age of the Crusades.
In the middle of the thirteenth century, the remains of the kings and queens of France were gathered from all the places of their interment throughout the kingdom, and were carried to the abbey of S. Denys. Those who were descended from Charlemagne were laid on one side of the cemetery, those of the line of Hugh Capet, on the other. And the deceased sovereigns of France, during the five centuries which followed, were laid in the hallowed field of the abbey, that in death their dust might rest near the relics of their blessed patron. But when the day of the infidel Revolution arrived, not even the saintly associations of fifteen hundred years availed to protect his shrine from sacrilege; and the tombs which surrounded it shared the same fate.
1 Memoirs of De Joinville, vol. ii. p. 159.
The very Fiend of hell himself seemed to be let loose upon the domain of the men of peace. But even the poor remains of the saints of God, and of the faithful departed in Christ, may not with impunity be trodden under the foot of the unholy. The downfall of the spoiler and the late history of the once joyous France are not needed to attest this. Our own land may furnish other examples.
S. Denys, bishop of Paris, ought not to be confounded with the Areopagite of the same name. many copies of the English Kalendar we find the latter saint commemorated on this day. It is not unlikely that the compilers of the Kalendar considered them as one person, and the same opinion is found in the Roman Breviary. But in other parts of the Church the Areopagite is honoured as a distinct person, and by a separate festival on the 3d of October. He is supposed to have been a native of Thrace. When S. Paul visited Athens, he was a member of the court of Areopagus, the supreme tribunal of justice in that city'. The sermon of the Apostle was the means of converting him to God. Damaris, whose name is also mentioned in the sacred history, is thought by some to have been his wife. He became the first bishop of Athens, and received the palm of martyrdom in the reign of Domitian. He is honoured on the 3d of October in the East and West. The writings which are usually ascribed to him are not of earlier date than the sixth century. His head is believed to be in the treasury of the church of Soissons, whither it was translated from Constanti
1 Acts xvii.