Abbot Suger’s Saint-Denis: A Study in Early Environmental Design
By Kristin M. Barry
The Middle Ground Journal
Introduction: Abbot Suger’s choir at the Abbey Church of Saint-Denis is a re-occurring topic of discussion among architectural historians. Completed in 1144 C.E., Suger’s changes to the existing church and his inclusion of prominent stained glass have been noted for their influence on the later architecture of the Ile-de-France. Similarly, much attention has been paid to the aesthetic and mathematical ingenuity that the architect employed to create such a building while other contemporary examples were failing.
Although it remains one of the most studied medieval buildings in history, little analysis has, however, been done on what appear to be the most influential and functional aspects of Saint-Denis: the structural efficiency of the plan, and, more importantly, the light distribution made possible by the integrated chapel design. The layout of the plan, more specifically the removal of a party wall typically seen between contemporary chapels, is integral in moving from the dark, insular Romanesque churches to the bright, Gothic choirs, as it allows for the optimum permeation of light into the chevet. This architectural study suggests that it is really the inspiration of light that drove the choir design of Saint-Denis, and, as such, was the most influential element in the development of later Gothic churches.
Top Image: Photo by Guilhem Vellut / Wikimedia Commons