Have you ever wondered why there is a Rue St Denis in every town and village in France, or why a whole area of Paris, a Basilica, and a world famous wine, and goodness knows what else, is named after the good Saint? Well the short answer is obviously that he is the Patron Saint of France, and if that is enough explanation, stop reading now. The slightly longer version, for fans of Morey St Denis wines, history, and gruesome Medieval tales, is a bit more involved. In the 2c, Denis was a Christian missionary operating in the area which is now Paris. He was so good at converting non believers to his way of thinking, that his detractors decided to silence him once and for all, and in the traditional manner. However legend has it, that once decapitated, Denis bent down and picked up his missing appendage, which continued preaching the gospel, while held firmly between Denis’ outstretched hands. It is obviously little wonder that he became a legend! His detractors were well and truly thwarted.
Skip forward 1,000 years or so. The hill of Vergy, just behind Gevrey Chambertin, was the fortified enclave of the Vergy family, powerful Burgundian nobles from the 6c. In the 12 c, one of the family was the Bishop of Paris, and as such had access to the remains of Denis. In those days it was common for relics of deceased Saints to be taken places where it was thought the energy of the Saint, transported via the relic, would be a force for the good. With this in mind, the previously garrulous, but by now silent appendage, was brought back to Vergy, and installed in a small chapel dedicated to the Saint, within the walls on the top of the hill. A group of religious men known as Chanoines were allocated the task of protecting the remains, and the family gave them some vines in the village of Morey. The vineyard was baptised Clos St Denis, and later the village was allowed to incorporate the name of its most famous Clos, so that it became Morey St Denis as we know it today.
The Ways of St Jacques or St James in English, are routes, taken by pilgrims, from the 9c onwards, to visit the remains of St James, reportedly discovered in Santiago in Northern Spain. One of the routes descends through Reims, Langres, Dijon, and then Gevrey, on its way to Cluny, where the mother Abbey of the Benedictine Order was founded. The Vergy family must have been quite pleased with their acquisition (they were also the first reported owners of the Turin Shroud), and the fact that such an important part of Denis was sitting in their chapel, would doubtless have added to the family’s religious credentials. It also introduced a small diversion for pilgrim travellers, who would now follow a route which took them behind the Cote to Vergy, rather than simply heading south along the eastern side of the hill. Sadly in 1610, the reason for the diversion disappeared. The Vergy family were deemed too powerful for French King Henry IV, and at the end of the religious wars, he ordered the destruction of their fortified chateau. The one part that was left, was the tower dedicated to Denis, which can still be found today, on the side of the hill below where the walls would have once stood.