The Catholic Defender: Saint Denis and Companions
October 9 is celebrated as the feast of Saint Denis and companions, a priest named Rusticus and a deacon, Eleutherius, who were martyred alongside him and buried with him. The names Rusticus and Eleutherius are non-historical.
This martyr and patron of France is regarded as the first bishop of Paris. His popularity is due to a series of legends, especially those connecting him with the great abbey church of St. Denis in Paris. He was for a time confused with the writer now called Pseudo-Dionysius.
The best hypothesis contends that Denis was sent to Gaul from Rome in the third century and beheaded in the persecution under Emperor Valerius in 258.
According to one of the legends, after he was martyred on Montmartre—literally, “mountain of martyrs”—in Paris, he carried his head to a village northeast of the city. Saint Genevieve built a basilica over his tomb at the beginning of the sixth century.
Saint Denis, the first bishop of Paris, was beheaded in that city in the year 250. According to legend, angels accompanied him as he carried his own head from the place of execution to his chosen burial site, where later the church of Saint Denis was built just outside of Paris.
Again, we have the case of a saint about whom almost nothing is known, yet one whose cult has been a vigorous part of the Church’s history for centuries. We can only conclude that the deep impression the saint made on the people of his day reflected a life of unusual holiness. In all such cases, there are two fundamental facts: A great man gave his life for Christ, and the Church has never forgotten him—a human symbol of God’s eternal mindfulness.