Medieval Art and Architecture

Basilique Royale de Saint-Denis (WordPress Writing 101 Prompt #17)

Saint-Denis – west façade. By Ordifana75 (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
 Today’s prompt didn’t particularly interest me or feel like a good fit for this blog, but the additional challenge was to write in a style different from my usual one, which I liked a lot. I like my writing to flow and include lots of description; I never skimp on the words. Therefore, I decided to write a post in a more direct style, with shorter and even incomplete sentences. I used bullet points instead of nice fluid paragraphs.

Saint-Denis – view from the nave looking toward the apse. By Bordeled (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The Basilica of Saint Denis (Basilique Royale de Saint-Denis)

  • Located in Saint Denis, a suburb of Paris.
  • Benedictine abbey church
  • Original church dates from around 475.
  • Gothic rebuild from 1137-1144.
  • Church was closely associated with French royalty in their Île-de-France seat of power.
  • Architecture meant to glorify French monarchy.
  • Early French kings, including Charlemagne, crowned and buried there.
  • Later monarchs now rest there as well, including memorials to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
  • Underground crypt contains royal burials.
  • Pilgrimage church – shrine to Saint Denis (Saint Dionysius), former Bishop of Paris and patron saint of Paris.
  • Abbot Suger (1081-1151) was politically connected and in charge of massive rebuild.
  • Still an active church but no longer an abbey, and opened for visits.
Radiating chapels around the apse, with an ambulatory. By Rita1234 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons
  • Earliest example of Gothic architecture in France.
  • Higher vaults, more open space, less stone than Romanesque churches.
  • Open plan with ambulatory connecting chapels around the apse using fan vaulting was revolutionary.
  • Pointed arches and ribbed groin vaults, already used in Romanesque period, combined in a new and better way to make innovations possible.
  • Bigger and higher stained-glass windows thanks to exterior buttresses.
  • More window than wall.
  • Airy, light-filled spaces have spiritual associations; meant to provoke religious feeling.
  • Predecessor to the soaring vaults and massive windows in later churches like Notre-Dame de Paris, Chartres Cathedral, and Sainte-Chapelle.
  • Some elements still in their original Romanesque and earlier design, including west façade.
  • Beautiful sculptural work on interior and exterior.
Stained glass windows in the triforium. By Sailko (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY 2.5 (, via Wikimedia Commons


Davies, Penelope J.E. et al. Janson’s History of Art: The Western Tradition. 7th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2007. 385-391.

Toman, Rolf ed. & Barbara Borngasser. Churches and Cathedrals: 1700 years of sacred architecture. Bath, England: Parragon Books Ltd., 2008. 85.

Wikipedia. “Basilica of St Denis” on Accessed July 2, 2015.

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