Montmartre – Mont des Martyrs

The history of Montmartre is linked to the legend of Saint Denis and to the former Abbaye des Dames de Montmartre.

Montmartre Abbey - Sanctum Martyrium Chapel dedicated to St-Denis
Montmartre Abbey – Sanctum Martyrium Chapel dedicated to St-Denis

Some 2000 years ago the Romans built two temples at the top of Montmartre hill. 

One was dedicated to Mars, the second to Mercury.

Some people therefore think that Montmartre evolved from Mons Mercuri or Mons Martis.

Others believe it evolved from Mont des Martyrs.

Around 250AD, the Romans captured St. Denis, the first bishop and patron saint of Paris, and his two fellow preachers.

Legend has it that the soldiers who escorted them to the top of the hill, where they were supposed to execute them, decided that the climb was too strenuous and beheaded them half-way up the hill.

Foundation of Montmartre Abbey

In 1133, King Louis le Gros’ wife, Queen Adelaide de Savoie, founded the prestigious abbey on the site of the Roman temples. 

Adelaide was buried in the abbey church, St-Pierre de Montmartre, where her tombstone is still visible.

Foundation of the Sanctum Martyrum Chapel

Sanctum Martyrum Chapel - Montmartre Abbey
Sanctum Martyrum Chapel

In the 16th century, builders discovered an ancient staircase while working on the hill side.

The steps led down to a crypt containing three graves marked with a cross and ancient inscriptions.

The nuns immediately believed that this was where Saint-Denis and his fellow preachers were beheaded and buried.

The chapel they erected above it, the Sanctum Martyrium, became a major pilgrimage site that attracted people from the entire kingdom.

The annex they built around the chapel soon became known as the Lower Abbey.

In the late 17th century, they deserted the Upper Abbey, the original Montmartre Abbey buildings on the hilltop, and settled in the Lower Abbey.

The Ghosts of the Abbey of Montmartre

Montmartre Abbey - Rue des Abbesses
Rue des Abbesses

Nothing is left of the prestigious Abbaye des Dames de Montmartre. 

All the buildings, except St-Pierre-de-Montmartre Church, were demolished at the French Revolution. 

The Sanctum Martyrium Chapel and its crypt were rebuilt in the 19th century.

The district that developed by the Lower Abbey is today known as Quartier des Abbesses.

Directions: 18th district – 11 Rue Yvonne le Tac
Metro: Anvers on Line 2
Coordinates: Lat 48.884146 – Long 2.340037

Discover more on Montmartre

Montmartre Village Place du TertrePetit Cimetiere du CalvaireSaint-Pierre-de-Montmartre ChurchSaint-Jean-de-Montmartre ChurchSacre-Coeur BasilicaMontmartre Montmartre Cemetery Saint-Vincent CemeteryLe Passe Muraille sculptureMur des Je t’AimeAbbesses Art Nouveau Metro stationMoulin RougeBateau LavoirMontmartre grape harvest festival

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