The origin of Gothic architecture, a style which defined Europe in the later Middle Ages, can be traced to a single abbey church in the northern suburbs of Paris. The Basilique royale de Saint-Denis (Royal Basilica of Saint-Denis), constructed on the site of an abbey and reliquary established in Carolingian (800-888 CE) times, was partially rebuilt under the administration of Abbot Suger in the early 12th Century; these additions—utilizing a variety of structural and stylistic techniques developed in the construction of Romanesque churches in the preceding centuries—would set medieval architecture on a new course that would carry it through the rest of the epoch. Saint Denis of Paris became established as the patron saint of the Frankish people (a group of people who occupied what is now known as France) by the 7th Century. In the 3rd Century, Denis, along with two companions, was sent to Paris by Pope Fabian as a missionary, and was subsequently martyred by the Roman Emperor Decius. Legend holds that after his decapitation, Denis’ body carried his head to the site of the town and church that now bear his name. The village was well-established before the Frankish King Dagobert established an abbey there in the 7th Century, but generous gifts from both Royal patrons and droves of pilgrims greatly elevated its status in both the Catholic Church and the Kingdom of France. Despite the abbey’s significance, however, it would not be altered in any meaningful way for half a millennium.
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