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Royal advisor

An Influential Abbot.

Given to the abbey of Saint-Denis as a child, Suger, was, as told by his biographer, "small of body and family; constrained by twofold smallness, he refused in his smallness to be a small man." Once elevated to the abbacy in 1122, he set about realizing his childhood dream of refurbishing the church, now nearly 400 years old. After reorganizing Saint-Denis' finances to support the cost of construction, he launched the building campaign in the mid-1130s. Although he was not, as sometimes asserted, the architect of the new church, his travels throughout Europe and France gave him an extraordinarily wide horizon of knowledge of buildings and their decoration. He obviously drew upon his far-flung network of contacts to assemble an international team of masons, sculptors, glass painters, and goldsmiths in the abbey's workshops. He was also clearly a "hands-on" patron, riding out into the forest in search of tall trees to provide roof timbers. It was, no doubt, his demands for columns, for large stained glass, for a harmonious union of the old structure with the new, that pushed the master mason to realize the novel combination of architectural elements that produced the spacious, light interior that changed the course of western architecture. In addition to his duties as head of a powerful abbey, advisor to King Louis VI, and regent of France during Louis VII's absence on Crusade in the late 1140s, Suger authored a life of Louis VI and, most famously, three booklets, De Administratione (On what was Done Under his Administration), De Consecratione (The Other Little Book on the Consecration of the Church of Saint-Denis), and the Ordinatio (Ordinance Enacted in the Year 1140 or in the Year 1141), in which Suger describes the building campaigns, works of art, and dedication ceremonies of his beloved abbey church.


Lindy Grant, Abbot Suger of St.-Denis: Church and State in Early Twelfth-Century France (London: Longman, 1998).

Erwin Panofsky and Gerda Panofsky-Soergel, eds., Abbot Suger: On the Abbey Church of Saint-Denis and Its Art Treasures. 2nd ed. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1973).

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