Finally, maddened with excitement, the crowd arrived before the church of St. Denis, whose splendid bronze gates, given to it by Charlemagne, were closed. Without a moment's hesitation, however, they attacked them with stones and axes, and soon had broken to pieces one of the most perfect relics of early French art. Then, rushing within the sanctuary, they attacked the royal tombs with the same fury they had shown in tearing down the gates of bronze. They overthrew the statues of saintsand Kings, smashed the stained - glass windows, broke off the delicately sculptured ornaments of the tombs, defiled the altars, and when they reached the coffins themselves tore them open with a reckless vandalism tempered only by curiosity and avarice. The skulls, bones, and ashes of Kings, Queens, Princes, and Bishops, all of whom had occupied prominent places in the history of France, were tossed about and commented upon as vulgarly as if they had been pebbles or potatoes. The head of Louis XII was kicked about the pavement. One of the mob called the royal crypt a "rat-hole," and the appellation was received with loud applause. Amid the blows of axes could be heard the ribald laughter of those sacrilegious vandals as they pulled the remainsofaKing or Bishop from his resting-place and threw the bones at each other's heads.
ST. Denis, Interior.
However, when they came upon the coffin of Henry IV, the gallant Henry of Navarre, even these lawless ruffians were somewhat impressed. He had been the most popular of French Kings, and at first they were very careful not to injure his body. It had been very skillfully embalmed and wrapped in bands of linen, and when these were unrolled, to the surprise and almost terror of the spectators, the corpse of the great King appeared almost as perfect as when buried. The eyes were open, and the wounds made by the knife of Ravaillac were distinctly visible. Presently, however, a reaction took place. Even this sovereign, who had been the idol of the people, could not be then respected, although sanctified by death, because he had been a King! Accordingly one of the mob, placing himself in front of the coffin, waved his red cap, and shouted to his fellows: "Come patriots, be lively! Let 's get the old rascal out of the way, and dig up the rest of the crowned brigands!' These words produced the desired effect, and the body of Henry IV was immediately dragged from the church, thrown into the ditch, and covered with lime. Subsequently the body of Louis XIV, the founder of Versailles, the "Grand Monarch" of France, was also cast into the trench with the most revolting disrespect.
Tombs Of Louis XII And Anne Of Brittany.
By a curious coincidence, at the very hour when the remains of Louis XV were flung head foremost into the ditch at St. Denis, the mutilated body of Marie Antoinette was thrown into a common grave in the cemetery of La Madeleine.
Much disappointment was experienced because so little jewelry was found in these tombs, the exception being the discovery of two vases of pure gold containing the hearts of a son and a daughter-in-law of Louis XV.
When the coffin of Marshal Turenne was opened, his body was discovered to be in a state of almost perfect preservation. Hence, as it was about to be thrown into the pit with the others, a representative of the medical faculty of France stepped forward and demanded the corpse of the great soldier, that he might exhibit it in the Museum of Comparative Anatomy as a "magnificent illustration of how a mummy should be prepared." The Marshal's body was, therefore, handed over to this gentleman, who caused it to be transported to the Jardin des Plantes, where it remained for nine years between the skeletons of a monkey and a camel! This scandal, in the course of time, being reported to Napoleon, he ordered that the hero's body should be buried with military honors in the Invalides.
The horrible scenes of sacrilege at St. Denis lasted for twelve days, and by that time the building was a ruin; the tombs were tenantless, the statues were mutilated, the splendid windows had been broken out, the high altar was desecrated, and as the roof had been stripped of its lead for bullets, the rain came freely through a hundred openings.