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Suger of Saint-Denis


Abbot of the royal Abbey of saint-denis; b. Saint-Denis or Argenteuil, c. 1081; d. Saint-Denis, Jan. 13, 1151. He was the friend and adviser of louis vi and louis vii, and the regent of France during the Second Crusade. In the rebuilding of his abbey church, he introduced Gothic art and architecture to western Europe. The name of his father, Helinandus, is all that is known of his background, presumably a very humble one, since he was given as an oblatus to Saint-Denis at the age of ten. At the abbey school he became a close friend of Prince Louis, later Louis VI, and remained an intimate of the royal family for the rest of his life. At 26 he represented the abbey's interests before Pope paschal ii and began his administrative career as prior of Berneval in Normandy. In 1122 he was elected abbot of Saint-Denis; he instituted a reform in 1127 and began the rebuilding of the church c. 1135. The western entrance with royal portals was dedicated June 9, 1140, and the choir, illuminated by stained-glass windows, June 11, 1144. The slender supports, the ribbed vaults, the open space that unites the choir, and the colored light reflected from glittering altar decorations proclaimed a new style, which spread rapidly through the royal domain and ultimately throughout the Western world, as opus modernum, or opus francigenum, to be dubbed Gothic in the 17th century. He was a patron of the arts rather than an artist, a statesman and an able administrator; his writings are those of a historianhe recorded the life of King Louis VI, the consecration of his church, and details of his own administration. Inspired by the Neoplatonic Celestial Hierarchy of pseu dodionysius the Areopagite, whom he identified as his patron saint, he also sought to reconcile the earthly claims of church and state. His epitaph says of him: "Small of body and family, constrained by a twofold smallness,/He refused, in his smallness, to be a small man."

Bibliography: Oeuvres complètes de Suger, ed. a. lecoy de la marche (Paris 1867), Latin texts of all writings, letters, related documents; Vie de Louis VI le Gros, ed. and tr. (into Fr.) h. waquet (Paris 1929); Abbot Suger: On the Abbey Church of St. Denis and its Art Treasures, ed. and tr. e. panofsky (Princeton 1946), Eng. tr. of selected portions of the De administratione, the De consecratione, and the Ordinatio; Suger: Comment fut construit Saint-Denis, Fr. tr. of De consecratione by j. leclercq (Paris 1945). o. cartellieri, Abt Suger von Saint-Denis, 10811151 (Berlin 1898). m. aubert, Suger (Paris 1950). s. m. crosby, L'Abbaye royale de Saint-Denis: Cent Trente photos de Pierre Devinoy (Paris 1953). o. von simson, The Gothic Cathedral (2d ed. New York 1962).

[s. mck. crosby]

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