Cephalophore is the name given to saints who, according to legend, when decapitated picked up their heads and walked away.
St Dennis is one of these, a man whose popularity has meant that, the facts of his life being unknown, a lot of stories were told about him. The most well-known concerns his martyrdom. He is said to have been beheaded in Paris at Montmartre (Martyr’s Hill) and then picked up his head and walked to what is now Saint-Denis, preaching repentance.
Just because legends are told about people, it doesn’t mean that the people themselves are legendary. Just because the stories told about them aren’t literally true doesn’t mean that they don’t tell the truth in a parabolic way.
For me, the story of St Dennis encapsulates the verse which says: ‘He, being dead yet speaketh’ (Hebrews 11, 4). By their lives, by their deaths, the saints speak to us – just as, in the way we live, we can proclaim Jesus without ever opening our mouths.