Pseudo-Dionysius’ Metaphysics of Darkness and Chartres

Pseudo-Dionysius’ Metaphysics of Darkness and Chartres

James, Laurence J.

Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 2 (1985)


It is a given among art historians that Abbot Suger of St. Denis Abbey, just outside Paris, was a seminal figure for Gothic art and architecture. Most would agree with the late Erwin Panofsky that Suger translated the light metaphysics of Pseudo-Dionysius and Johannes Scotus into the abbey church, and that the church had many imitators all over France. Abbot Suger left us poems by which his intention [to do what Panofsky says he did] can be established. However, it seems to have passed notice that what one intends and what one accomplishes are often quite different things. Anyone who has been to St. Denis Abbey church knows that most of the light in the sanctuary is dependent upon the clerestory windows, which were not set in until the 13th century. In other words, if Suger was father to the idea which culminates in lantern churches, the idea comes round again, after his death, to produce what his words suggest; but what his words suggest did not exist, could not have existed, in the monument during his lifetime.

Click here to read/download this article (HTML file)

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

medievalverse magazine