Saint-Denis was one of a handful of bishops sent by Pope Fabian to Gaul on an evangelical mission. Christian persecutions by the Roman Emperor Decius were common in the area; these bishops were sent with the hope of restoring people’s faith and allegiance to Christianity, which had been beginning to flourish there.
The group made their way to the Roman city Lutetia (modern-day Paris) and settled on an island in the Seine where they began preaching to the locals.
Denis and his companions were so effective in converting people that the pagan priests became alarmed over their loss of followers. At their instigation, the Roman Governor arrested the missionaries.
Saint-Denis was captured by Roman soldiers while preaching in Northern France. Put into prison and then tortured, he was sentenced to beheading on Montmartre Hill just in front of the Temple of Mercury.
But when his head was cut off, legend has it that Denis simply picked it up and went on his way. He walked 10 kilometers (six miles) in total, all the while preaching a sermon.
The myth says he carried his head to the small village of Catulliacum (present-day Saint-Denis in the north of Paris), and ‘died’ in the spot where he wished to be buried.
The imagery of him often depicts him as headless and carrying his own head.
Saint-Denis holding his head.