Post 740 -by Gautam Shah
5 Abbot Suger and formation of Gothic Structure —
Basic features of the Gothic architecture, like Rib Vaults, Pointed arches, thin ribbed columns and height, were in use before, but for the first time, all were assembled together. The density and darkness of the Romanesque buildings were due to the heavy load bearing walls required to support the masonry domes. The heavy walls also accommodated the displacement thrusts within their thickness. The heavy walls could not rise up to great heights.
Suger recognised the value of, than sporadically used concept of flying buttresses. Sugar also saw that buttresses placed outside the enclosure skin, made the interiors free of heavy walls. The technical improvements of external buttresses and pointed arch-based vaults reduced the ‘self or dead load’ on columns. The enclosure skin or exterior walls were more or less replaced with columns. These schemes created greater height and larger windows.
The significance of Saint-Denis, then, was not that its master builders pioneered the new forms of construction, it was simply the first time that they were used together with the intention of creating a markedly different effect than that which prevailed in the abbey’s Romanesque contemporaries. By skillfully combining these pre-existing threads, a new architectural creation was created.
Gothic style as it evolved had the columns and the vaults. The new features, like, rib, pointed arches, and column to column windows, all accentuated the verticality. The Gothic architecture intentionally maximized the lightness of the space through height. The abbot was deeply affected by the results of his own alterations and ‘wished to reinforce the same through artistic glass works’.
In the first phase Sugar had to see that during the construction original structure remained substantially functional. The original Romanesque nave, the central space was kept intact. Suger added two bays (of 3 spans and 3 stories each) on new western front entrance, and a new Narthex, with 4 additional bays. The new western extension was completed in 1140. As construction of the western façade was completed, the most important and emotional section for the pilgrims and rulers was taken up. Crypts now had an airy, illuminated and wider space, which made it less suffocating and easy to move area.
‘About forty-two kings, thirty-two queens, sixty-three princes and princesses and ten loyal servants of the kingdom were buried in the Basilica of Saint Denis until the nineteenth century. The kings’ necropolis is one of the most important funerary monuments in the world. This was not always the case. Indeed, the Abbey in Saint-Denis was confronted with competition, especially from Saint-Germain-des-Prés, and only got recognition thanks to the obstinacy of Abbot Suger and the support of the Capetian dynasties’.
It was largely due to Suger, in the 12th C, the Basilica became a principal sanctuary of French Royalty. It was equally important place, like Reims Cathedral, where the Kings were crowned.
To reconstruct such an important place, with a new structure (of double rows of columns + exterior colonnaded wall) was politically and religiously very risky decision. The old structure was preserved till the new 3 parts ribbed roof vaults became ready. The new external wall was full of stained glasses. The improvised new walls of stained glass, reduced the wall area, to minimum. This was completed after Suger’s death, and was known as Rayonnant Gothic or style Decorated Gothic.
Suger was able to design and strategize the first church in the Gothic style. He exploited the stained glass windows in St. Denis as a mural art to depict stories and messages far more brilliantly than the original Romanesque mosaic murals. The rich and famous, now wanted to contribute and participate in the reconstruction. They wanted their names to be included, and also suggested the themes for the compositions. This offered St. Denis huge sum.
The themes of stained glass windows were of three types, dominantly religious, secular or ornamental. First two group are mixed, but the ornamental themes had entire surface.
Suger had planned twin towers on west end, but, in his life, time only the southern one was completed. The northern tower was finished by one of his successors. The south one, twice faced lightening strikes in 1219 and 1837. It remained incomplete ever since.