St. Denis of Paris

A perfect hagiography for the month that includes Halloween, St. Denis of Paris is often depicted carrying his own severed head, in reference to a legend that he preached a sermon after being beheaded.

Denis was the first bishop of Paris, sent to convert the Gauls to Christianity (it didn't go well). He is also one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, a group of saints whose intercession began to be sought collectively against the Black Death.

Lifetime: ~200 to ~250
Region: Montmartre, Gaul (modern Paris, France)
Patronages: Headaches; Paris; Rabies
Iconograpy: Martyr holding his own severed head; Bishop's mitre and crosier
Feast Day: October 9

Denis (called Dionysus in his time) is considered the first Bishop of Paris. Though Paris wasn't yet established as a city, he was sent to the area that is now called Paris to preach to the people of Gaul, an area where the early church had once thrived, but had since waned after persecution by the Roman emperor.

Upon arriving, he set up a small church with his companions on the Island of Paris in the Seine river. From this church, Denis and his friends began preaching to the Gauls of the area, winning many of them back to the Christian faith. In fact, so many converted under Denis' guidance that the pagan priests became concerned about their plummeting follower counts.

The pagan priests, fearful of Denis' influence, pressured the Roman Governor of the area to deal with him. Guards under the Roman order came to the Island of Paris and seized Denis and his companions, imprisoning and torturing them for years to get them to deny their faith, but Denis and his fellows refused.

Eventually, the Romans, again urged on by the pagan priests, took the missionaries to the highest hill in the town, a druidic holy site, and killed the three by beheading.

You might think that that would be the end of St. Denis' story, but according to legend, his ministry did not end there. Instead, his body picked up his head, which began preaching a sermon to whomever would listen. In that way, headless body carrying his head in his hands, he preached to the Gauls of Montmartre, walking several miles as he spoke.

When his sermon was complete, only then did he collapse, dead. A Benedictine monastery was built on the site where his final death was believed to have occurred.

Prayer to St. Denis

O God, Who conferred Your saving Faith on the people of France through Your holy bishop and martyr Denis, and did glorify him before and after his martyrdom by many miracles. Grant us, through his intercession, that the Faith practiced and preached by him may be our light on the way of life, so that we may be preserved from all anxieties of conscience, and if by human frailty we have sinned, we may return to You speedily by true penance.  Moreover, I beseech You to graciously grant me, through the merits and intercession of this powerful Helper, the petition which through them I humbly place before You, devoutly saying, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”


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