Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Saint Denis 3

Views of the Chancel and chevet.
It was not as the shrine of France's patron saint nor, still less, as the burial place of the kings of France that St Denis drew me but as the reputed birthplace of the Gothic and, as such, as arguably one of the most influential buildings in the history of the world- nevertheless all these facts are related.

Interestingly the term "gothic", slanderously associating the style with a race of barbarians, was coined during the renaissance and replaced the original "
Opus Francigenum" - French Work. While various features of the gothic style- pointed arches, flying buttresses, clustered columns and rib vaulting- appear to have disparate sources all were brought together here at St Denis under Abbot Suger in the service of a light-filled interior during the 1140s. The dissolution of solid walls in favour of pointed arches framing expansive stained glass windows is particularly striking as one walks around the ambulatory with its radiating "glass-walled" chapels. Indeed, until this visit I had regarded talk of the gothic "dissolution of solid walls" as mere hyperbole. Here it is real.

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