Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Dionysius, Bishop of Paris, and His Companions, Martyrs

[Saint Denis of Paris]Article

A.D. 272

The faith is said by some to have been planted in part of Gaul by Saint Luke, and especially by Saint Crescens, a disciple of Saint Paul. The churches of Marseilles, Lyons, and Vienne were indebted for the light of the gospel to Asiatic or Grecian preachers, though they had received their mission and orders from the apostolic see of Rome. For Pope Innocent I. positively affirms 1 that no one had established churches in the Gauls, or in Spain or Africa, but persons who had been ordained bishops by Saint Peter and his successors. The history of the martyrs of Lyons and Vienne, in 177, proves the nourishing state of those churches in the second century. Saint Irenæus very much advanced the faith in Gaul, and left many eminent disciples behind him, though two of the most illustrious among them, Caius and Saint Hippolytus, left Gaul, and displayed their abilities and zeal in Italy and other foreign countries. Nevertheless, the light of the gospel did not spread its beams so early upon the remoter parts of Gaul, as is expressly affirmed by Saint Sulpicius Severus, and in the Acts of Saint Saturninus. Saint Germanus of Paris and seven other French bishops, in a letter to Saint Radegondes, say, that the faith having been planted in Gaul, in the very birth of Christianity, made its progress slowly till the divine mercy sent thither Saint Martin in 360. Numerous churches, however, were established before that time in most parts of that country, by seven bishops sent thither by the bishop of Rome to preach the gospel.

Of all the Roman missionaries sent into Gaul, Saint Dionysius carried the faith the furthest into the country, fixing his see at Paris, and by him and his disciples the sees of Chartres, Senlis, and Meaux were erected, 6 and shortly after, those of Cologne and others, which we find in a flourishing condition and governed by excellent pastors in the fourth century, witness Saint Maternus of Cologne, etc. Saints Fuscian and Victoricus, Crispin and Crispinian, Rufinus and Valerius, Lucian of Beauvais, Quintin, Piaton, Regulus or Riticius of Senlis, and Marcellus are called disciples or fellow-labourers of Saint Dionysius, and came from Rome to preach the name of Christ in Gaul. We are assured in the acts of the martyrdom of Saint Dionysius that this zealous bishop built a church at Paris, and converted great numbers to the faith. A glorious martyrdom crowned his labours for the salvation of souls, and the exaltation of the name of Christ. He seems to have suffered in the persecution of Valerian in 272, though some moderns defer his death to the beginning of the reign of Maximian Herculeus, who resided chiefly in Gaul from the year 286 to 292. Ado calls the judge by whom he was condemned Fescenninus. The Acts of his Martyrdom, Saint Gregory of Tours, Fortunatus, and the western Martyrologists inform us, that after a long and cruel imprisonment he was beheaded for the faith, together with Rusticus, a priest, and Eleutherius, a deacon. The Acts add, that the bodies of the martyrs were thrown into the river Seine, but taken up and honourably interred by a Christian lady named Catalla, not far from the place where they had been beheaded. The Christians soon after built a chapel over their tomb. In 469, through the pious exhortations of Saint Geneviève, a church was raised upon the ruins of this chapel, which was a place of great devotion, much resorted to by pilgrims, as appears from the works of Saint Gregory of Tours, in many places, by which it is clear that this church stood without the walls of the city, though very near them. By a donation of Clotaire II. it appears that here was then a religious community governed by an abbot. Dagobert, who died in 638, founded the great abbey in this place in which he was interred, and which has been for many ages the usual burial-place of the French kings. Pepin and his son Charlemagne were principal benefactors to this monastery, which was magnificently rebuilt by abbot Suger. The relics of SS. Dionysius, Rusticus, and Eleutherius are kept here in three silver shrines. The miraculous cure of Pope Stephen II in this church has been already related. 8 Saint Dionysius of France is commonly called Saint Denis, from the French Denys. A portion of his relics is said to be possessed by the abbey of Saint Emmeran at Ratisbon.

Those apostolic pastors who converted so many nations to Christ were men filled with his Spirit, who regarded nothing but his glory, and acted and lived for him alone. Christ on earth never entertained any regard but for the glory of his Father, to whom he offered himself and his kingdom. Whoever becomes his minister, must, in like manner, have no aim, no intention but to advance the divine honour: for this he must be dead to the world, and have bid adieu to it, that is, to all desires of honours, applause, pleasures, riches, or any earthly goods whatever. Such a one sees nothing in this world which he hopes or desires; nothing that he much fears; he seeks no composition with it while he is engaged in the cause of his master; no threats or apprehensions of terror from its persecution can damp his courage in defending the honour of God, or cool his zeal for the salvation of souls.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Dionysius, Bishop of Paris, and His Companions, Martyrs”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 8 October 2013. Web. 27 November 2014. <>