Stone Architecture: The Basilica Of Saint-Denis

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The Basilica of Saint-Denis is a Roman Catholic abbey church located in what is now Paris. The original building was built by King Dagobert in the 7th century to house the relics of Saint Denis, a former Parisian bishop and the patron saint of France, as well as the remains of French kings. In the 12th century, there was increased religious pilgrimages to view relics, and increased acceptance of the idea that individuals connect with God through, rather than despite, the material world. As a result, in 1140 the Basilica was reconstructed by Abbot Suger, who believed that a more glorious church was needed to properly honor Saint Denis and to accommodate the large number of visitors to the relics. Suger, inspired by writings that he attributed …show more content…
To generalize, the Romanesque church is supported by flat expanses of wall, arched over thick, heavy columns, and perforated with small stained glass windows. Although stained glass is used, it is in small amounts and the light that enters generally draws the eye towards the apse of the church, highlighting the altar. For example, the Cathedral St. James has an lantern tower above the crossing, shedding light onto the altar and the relic of Saint James. Pointed arches, ribbed groin vaults, and external buttresses are all used in Romanesque architecture, but are not combined optimally to bear the most weight, so thick walls and columns must be used and the crushing weight of the bulky stone architecture is noticeable to the viewer. The interior is often heavily decorated with paint and carvings. Illustrating this style, the piers of Durham Cathedral, constructed in 1093, were engraved with chevrons, spiral fluting, and diamond patterns, topped with complex capitals, and (although it is no longer visible) were brightly …show more content…
The medium through which Suger achieved divine luminosity was the stained glass window. The transept of Saint Denis was, according to legend, blessed by Jesus himself through the ritual of “laying on of hands.” Because of this, Suger left it largely intact, so his most significant changes were to the apse area. The apse is surrounded by a wide ambulatory, and then seven apsidal chapels, housing relics. Illuminating each chapel is a large stained glass window, and the light flows into the wide open space of the basilica. Suger combined load-bearing stonework elements that already existed in Romanesque architecture in innovative ways to make this possible. The apse and ambulatory feature skeletal rib vaulting, resting on pointed arches, which are on thin columns. The rib vaulting is lighter than a typical ceiling, so that less is required to support it, and its ribs act as a skeleton, distributing the weight onto the columns. The pointed arch directs force downward with less thrust outward, so that it may be built to be taller and more closely spaced than a typical arch, and its pointed shape directs the eye upward. This means that the weight can be supported on thin columns rather than thick columns and walls, making it possible to put in massive windows and leave open space within for light to saturate the

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