chapter  9
12 Pages

The Abbey of Saint-Denis

WithWhitney S. Stoddard

When Abbot Suger dedicated the narthex of Saint-Denis, June 9, 1140, and the choir, June 14, 1144, he partially realized his dream of rebuilding the Royal Abbey and unwittingly, or perhaps wittingly, founded a new tradition. Suger’s abbey was dedicated to Saint Denis, the first Bishop of Paris. Professor Sumner Crosby, of Yale University, in his books on Saint-Denis, has separated fact from fiction in the life of this saint. Revenue was received from the fairs held at Saint-Denis three times a year and from large donations by the aristocracy of France. In the narthex of Saint-Denis, however, these ribbed vaults rise from complex piers made up of bundles of colonnettes which relate to the elaborate transverse ribs and to the simpler cross or diagonal ribs of the vaults. Saint-Denis appears to float in space. Heavy groin vaults and stout piers are replaced by slender columns from which spring the pointed transverse and round diagonal ribs.