Montmartre

Montmartre

Montmartre

Montmartre

Excerpt

With its picturesque houses and gardens, windmills and cabarets, its happy blend of town and country, Montmartre has always been no less appreciated by lovers of romantic solitude than by addicts of its nightlife. For it is no ordinary suburb; though a reluctant victim of the tentacular development of Paris, Montmartre has lost nothing of its "personality," none of the glamour of a legendary past that it a curious mixture of the chronique scandaleuse and martyrology.

As regards the origin of the name, several theories have been put forward, but the obvious explanation--that it is a French form of mons martyrum or "Mount of Martyrs"--is most probably correct, and it is generally thought that the name commemorates the martyrdom of St Denis and his deacons, Sts Rusticus and Eleutherius. According to that early historian of the Franks St Gregory of Tours, St Denis was sent to Gaul during the reign of the Emperor Dedus (249-251), became the first bishop of Paris and "having undergone many torments in the cause of his Redeemer was put to death by the sword." But it is also possible that the name refers to those unknown martyrs whose remains were buried at the summit of Montmartre hill (the "Butte"); a possibility borne out by fragments of inscriptions brought to light on July 13, 1611, by workmen excavating the crypt of the so-called "Holy Martyrs' Chapel," where St Ignatius of Loyola and his six companions took vows of poverty and chastity.

The soil of the Butts was rich in gypsum (the famous "platter of Paris") and in Merovingian times there were dwellers on the hill, which was then surrounded by swamps and forests. In the early Middle Ages a group of Benedictine nuns took up residence in the church on the summit, and thereafter Montmartre was administered by the dynasty of noble . . .

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