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Abbot Suger’s and Gothic Architecture

Invention of Gothic

The gothic style is characteristic of the late medieval period where most of the large buildings were built in a unique way to allow more light to seep into the large expansive inner compartments. The other aspect which contributed to increased popularity of the gothic style was to emphasis on verticality of the building. Thus these buildings of the early years had the gothic style imbibed in them. These features were made possible by utilizing pointed arches, ribbed vaults and flying buttresses in the main foundation hence the final will take the shape of the features once completed (Scott, 2003).

 When Abbot Suger was requested to rebuild the Saint Denise Abbey, he incorporated the ribbed vaults, the flying buttress and the pointed arches in the building to increase lighting. This was the very first building which incorporated the various features of gothic style. Subsequent buildings had this style and the architects referred to the Abbey of Saint Denise before undertaking any constructions. Hence the invention of the gothic style was therefore not the original intent of Abbot Suger though he helped make it popular. Other than making the gothic style popular, Abbot Suger incorporated various aspects of the Romanesque that were not initially present in the old buildings thus leading to a totally new gothic style for the Abbey (Grant, 1998).

 Origin of the different spark

The Saint Denise Abbey was the shrine for the patron saint of France and also the burial ground for French kings for a very long time. Consequently, Abbot Suger was fascinated by the history of the church and the history of Saint Denise the patron saint. This elicited an increased sentimental attachment between Abbot and the Abbey thus he had to provide elaborate illustrations of the Platonic concepts and the Christian Mysticism in the Abbey. This was conducted through a unique combination of the traditional gothic forms of style which were incorporated all together in an entirely different form.

 The unique form of the gothic cathedral was the integration of the pointed arch, the ribbed vault, ambulatory radiating chapels and clustered columns supporting ribs which sprung from different directions. These elements created room for inserting the large clerestory windows and the seemingly high ceilings. The other difference in the gothic style of the Saint Denise Abbey was its height that was way above other buildings in the town (Cusimano and Moorhead, 1992).

 Suger's actual motive

Abbot Suger was inclined towards the light and during the assigning of the expansion and reconstruction of the Saint Denise Abbey; he saw a good chance of maximizing light inflow into the Abbey. This was also the most suitable opportunity to blend philosophy and Christianity to ensure that the resulting landmark was spectacular. From what he had learnt in philosophy, beauty was only attained when harmony and radiance were integrated into the same object. Combining this with the personality which was inclined towards light, Abbot Suger was on his way towards establishing a unique architectural style that would be remembered for many years to come (Otto, 1988).

 Consequently, the closeness between the French monarchy and the Abbot Suger could have elicited more attachment to the building. This is best explained in the fact that the Abbey was the burial ground for the French kings and the close proximity to the palace required exceptional work to be conducted on the cathedral. This was no usual building that could go unnoticed if it was poorly done hence the highest degree of expertise had to be incorporated in the final building (Frisch, 1987).

 Suger’s reaction to the new Chartres Cathedral

Suger Abbot would be more than surprised by the mature and elaborate gothic that has been incorporated into the entire cathedral at Chartres. The architect used a double-aisled ambulatory that is the origin of three deep semi-circular chapels. There are also four shallower chapels from the same aisle. Similarly, the cathedral has employed extensive flying buttresses and exceedingly high vaults making it one of the tallest buildings in France. The towering height of the cathedral has created enough room for the insertion of high and wide stained windows which light up the place adequately. These have been significant in highlighting the gothic characters of style such as height, light, majesty and vertical emphasis (Grant, 2010).

 Therefore, it would be a thrilling and fulfilling moment for Abbot Suger when he sees that his original gothic style has undergone modifications to make it more gothic. Similarly, the essence of utilizing the style has earned a better reputation for Abbot Suger’s original idea (Bony, 1985).


Bony, Jean. French Gothic Architecture of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries. John Wiley and Sons (1985). pp. 52-95
Cusimano, Richard and Moorhead, John. Suger, Abbot of Saint Denis: The Deeds of Louis the Fat. Washington, DC : Catholic University of America Press,1992.pp.63-70
Frisch, Teresa, Grace. Gothic art 1140-c. 1450: sources and documents. University of Toronto Press, 1987.pp, 88
Grant, Lindy. Abbot Suger of St. Denis: Church and State in Early Twelfth-Century France.Essex, UK: Addison Wesley Longman Limited, 1998. pp.20
Grant, Lindy. "Representing Dynasty: The Transept Windows at Chartres Cathedral," in Robert A. Maxwell (ed) Representing History, 900–1300: Art, Music, History (University Park (PA), Pennsylvania State University press, 2010)
Otto, Van Simson. The Gothic Cathedral: Origins of Gothic Architecture & the Medieval Concept of Order (Third Edition), Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1988
Scott, Robert A.: The Gothic enterprise: a guide to understanding the Medieval cathedral, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003, p. 113.
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