, Catholic saint
, patron saint
. His feast day is October 9.
In the wake of the violent persecutions of the Emperor Decius, Pope Fabian (236-250) sent seven missions to Gaul to help rebuild the church there. Denis (then known by his Greek name Dionysius) and his companions Rusticus and Eleutherius founded a church in the vicinity of modern-day Paris and began to preach, earning many converts. This made some local notables uncomfortable, and they asked the local governor, Fescenninus Sisinnius, to put a stop to it. Denis and his companions were, according to the historian Gregory of Tours, scourged, imprisoned, mauled by wild animals, burned, and finally beheaded in about 275 AD. It is reported that Denis's body arose after its beheading and walked for a short distance. For this reason, he is traditionally depicted holding his head in his hands.
St. Denis grew in fame during the Middle Ages, apparently in large measure due to the fact that he was confused with Dionysius the Areopagite, a convert mentioned in Acts of the Apostles and supposed author of several rather fanciful tracts on Church history and theology. Nevertheless, it was through the devotion of numerous French nobles that St. Denis became France's patron saint.
Note to fans of The Simpsons In "The Listen Lady" episode, Rev. Lovejoy is confronted with the spirit of "St. Eleutherius of Nicomedia," who appears with his head in his hands. It is altogether possible that this is meant to be the companion of St. Denis, but I have no evidence that he was from Nicomedia. There was a second-century Pope Eleutherius from Nicopolis, but these cities are not the same, and in any event there is no evidence that he was beheaded.