The Gothic Enterprise: A Guide to Understanding the Medieval Cathedral

By Robert A. Scott | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
The Initial Vision

Though Gothic cathedrals may have come into being partly to avert heresy, the first Gothic church was not a cathedral, nor was it built with heresy in mind. It was an abbey church, and its aim was state-building. The Gothic enterprise began with the Abbey Church of St. Denis and its famous leader, Abbot Suger. Until recently, most medievalists attributed to Abbot Suger the leading role in inventing and introducing Gothic architecture into Europe. Recent studies and interpretations assign him a more modest role. 1 All agree, however, that Abbot Suger was at the center of the development of the Gothic style, and that his abbey church was where the elements of Gothic design first came together.

The Abbey Church of St. Denis dates to the late fifth century. It was originally built to house the relics of a martyred thirdcentury saint, variously referred to as Denis, Denys, and Dionysius. Denis was one of seven bishops sent to convert the people of Gaul during the reign of the third-century Roman emperor Decius, and he became the first Bishop of Paris. He was subsequently martyred during a persecution of Christians, and in 626 his remains were moved to a Benedictine abbey known today as the Abbey Church of St. Denis. According to a legend concocted by a ninth-

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