The Book of Suger, Abbot of St. Denis

Abbot Suger, 1140

In the twenty-third year of our administration, when we sat on a certain day in the general chapter, conferring with our brethren about matters both common and private, these very beloved brethren and sons began strenuously to beseech me in charity that I might not allow the fruits of our so great labors to be passed over in silence; and rather to save for the memory of posterity, in pen and ink, those increments which the generous munificence of Almighty God had bestowed upon this church, in the time of our prelacy, in the acquisition of new assets as well as in the recovery of lost ones, in the multiplication of improved possessions, in the construction of buildings, and in the accumulation of gold, silver, most precious gems and very good textiles. For this one thing they promised us two in return: by such a record we would deserve the continual fervor of all succeeding brethren in their prayers for the salvation of our soul; and we would rouse, through this example, their zealous solicitude for the good care of the church of God. We thus devoutly complied with their devoted and reasonable requests, not with any desire for empty glory nor with any claim to the reward of human praise and transitory compensation; and lest, after our demise, the church be diminished in its revenue by any or anyone’s roguery and the ample increments which the generous munificence of God has bestowed in the time of our administration be tacitly lost under bad successors, we have deemed it worthy and useful, just as we thought fitting to begin, in its proper place, our tale about the construction of the buildings and the increase of the treasures with the body of the church of the most blessed Martyrs Denis, Rusticus, and Eleutherius (which church has most tenderly fostered us from mother’s milk to old age), so to inform present and future readers about the increase of the revenue by starting from his own little town, that is to say, his first resting-place, and its vicinity on all sides

Of the Church’s Decoration

Having assigned these increases of the revenue in this manner, we turned our hand to the memorable construction of buildings, so that by this thanks might be given to Almighty God by us as well as by our successors; and that by good example their ardor might be roused to the continuation and, if necessary, to the completion of this [work]. For neither any want nor any hindrance by any power will have to be feared if, for the love of the Holy Martyrs, one takes safely care of oneself by one’s own resources. The first work on this church which we began under the inspiration of God [was this]: because of the age of the old walls and their impending ruin in some places, we summoned the best painters I could find from different regions, and reverently caused these [walls] to be repaired and becomingly painted with gold and precious colors. I completed this all the more gladly because I had wished to do it, if ever I should have an opportunity, even while I was a pupil in school.

Of the First Addition to the Church

However, even while this was being completed at great expense, I found myself, under the inspiration of the Divine Will and because of that inadequacy which we often saw and felt on feast days, namely the Feast of the blessed Denis, the Fair, and very many others (for the narrowness of the place forced the women to run toward the altar upon the heads of the men as upon a pavement with much anguish and noisy confusion), encouraged by the counsel of wise men and by the prayers of many monks (lest it displease God and the Holy Martyrs) to enlarge and amplify the noble church consecrated by the Hand Divine; and I set out at once to begin this very thing. In our chapter as well as in church I implored Divine mercy that He Who is the One, the beginning and the ending, Alpha and Omega, might join a good end to a good beginning by a safe middle; that He might not repel from the building of the temple a bloody man who desired this very thing, with his whole heart, more than to obtain the treasures of Constantinople. Thus we began work at the former entrance with the doors. We tore down a certain addition asserted to have been made by Charlemagne on a very honorable occasion (for his father, the Emperor Pepin, had commanded that he be buried, for the sins of his father Charles Martel, outside at the entrance with the doors, face downward and not recumbent); and we set our hand to this part. As is evident we exerted ourselves incessantly with the enlargement of the body of the church as well as with the trebling of the entrance and the doors, and with the erection of high and noble towers.

Of the Dedication

We brought about that the chapel of St. Romanus be dedicated to the service of God and His Holy Angels by the venerable man Archbishop Hugues of Rouen and very many other bishops. How secluded this place is, how hallowed, how convenient for those celebrating the divine rites has come to be known to those who serve God there as though they were already dwelling, in a degree, in Heaven while they sacrifice. At the same solemn dedication ceremony, there were dedicated in the lower nave of the church two chapels, one on either side (on one side that of St. Hippolytus and his Companions, and on the other that of St. Nicholas), by the venerable men Manasseh, Bishop of Meaux, and Peter, Bishop of Senlis. The one glorious procession of these three men went out through the doorway of St. Eustace; it passed in front of the principal doors with a huge throng of chanting clergy and exulting people, the bishops walking in front and performing the holy consecration; and, thirdly, they reentered through the single door of the cemetery which had been transferred from the old building to the new. When this festive work had been completed in the honor of Almighty God, and when we were girding ourselves to officiate in the upper part, [the visiting bishops Invigorated us, as we were a little tired, and most graciously exhorted us not to be discouraged by the fear of labor or of any want.

Of the Cast and Gilded Doors

Bronze casters having been summoned and sculptors chosen, we set up the main doors on which are represented the Passion of the Saviour and His Resurrection, or rather Ascension, with great cost and much expenditure for their gilding as was fitting for the noble porch. Also [we set up] others, new ones on the right side and the old ones on the left beneath the mosaic which, though contrary to modern custom, we ordered to be executed there and to be affixed to the tympanum of the portal. We also committed ourselves richly to elaborate the tower[s] and the upper crenelations of the front, both for the beauty of the church and, should circumstances require it, for practical purposes. Further we ordered the year of the consecration, lest it be forgotten, to be inscribed in copper-gilt letters in the following manner:

“For the splendor of the church that has fostered and exalted him,
Suger has labored for the splendor of the church.
Giving thee a share of what is throe, O Martyr Denis,
He prays to thee to pray that he may obtain a share of Paradise.
The year was the One Thousand, One Hundred, and Fortieth
Year of the Word when [this structured was consecrated.”
The verses on the door, further, are these:
“Whoever thou art, if thou seekest to extol the glory of these doors,
Marvel not at the gold and the expense but at the craftsmanship of the work.
Bright is the noble work; but, being nobly bright, the work
Should brighten the minds, so that they may travel, through the true lights,
To the True Light where Christ is the true door.
In what manner it be inherent in this world the golden door defines:
The dull mind rises to truth through that which is material
And, in seeing this light, is resurrected from its former submersion.”
And on the lintel: “Receive, O stern judge, the prayers of Thy Suger;
Grant that I be mercifully numbered among Thy own sheep.”

Of the Enlargement of the Upper Choir

In the same year, cheered by so holy and so auspicious a work, we hurried to begin the chamber of divine atonement in the upper choir where the continual and frequent Victim of our redemption should be sacrificed in secret without disturbance by the crowds. And, as is found in [our] treatise about the consecration of this upper structure, we were mercifully deemed worthy -- God helping and prospering us and our concerns -- to bring so holy, so glorious, and so famous a structure to a good end, together with our brethren and fellow servants; we felt all the more indebted to God and the Holy Martyrs as He, by so long a postponement, had reserved what had to be done for our lifetime and labors. For who am I, or what is my father’s house, that I should have presumed to begin so noble and pleasing an edifice, or should have hoped to finish it, had I not, relying upon the help of Divine mercy and the Holy Martyrs, devoted my whole self, both with mind and body, to this very task? But He Who gave the will also gave the power; because the good work was in the will therefore it stood in perfection by the help of God. How much the Hand Divine Which operates in such matters has protected this glorious work is also surely proven by the fact that It allowed that whole magnificent building [to be completed] in three years and three months, from the crypt below to the summit of the vaults above, elaborated with the variety of so many arches and columns, including even the consummation of the roof. Therefore the inscription of the earlier consecration also defines, with only one word eliminated, the year of completion of this one, thus:

“The year was the One Thousand, One Hundred, Forty and
Fourth of the Word when [this structure] was consecrated.”

To these verses of the inscription we choose the following ones to be added:

“Once the new rear part is joined to the part in front,
The church shines with its middle part brightened.
For bright is that which is brightly coupled with the bright,
And bright is the noble edifice which is pervaded by the new light;
Which stands enlarged in our time,
I, who was Suger, being the leader while it was being accomplished.”

Eager to press on my success, since I wished nothing more under heaven than to seek the honor of my mother church which with maternal affection had suckled me as a child, had held me upright as a stumbling youth, had mightily strengthened me as a mature man, and had solemnly set me among the princes of the Church and the realm, we devoted ourselves to the completion of the work and strove to raise and to enlarge the transept wings of the church [so as to correspond] to the form of the earlier and later work that had to be joined [by them].

Of the Continuation of Both Works

This done, when under the persuasion of some we had devoted our efforts to carrying on the work upon the front tower[s] (already completed on one side), the Divine will, as we believe, diverted us to the following: we would undertake to renew the central body of the church, which is called the nave, and harmonize and equalize it with the two parts [already] remodeled. We would retain, however, as much as we could of the old walls on which, by the testimony of the ancient writers, the Highest Priest, our Lord Jesus Christ, had laid His hand; so that the reverence for the ancient consecration might be safeguarded, and yet a congruous consistency (might be assured] to the modern work in accordance with the course embarked upon. The chief reason for this change was this: if, in our own time or under our successors, work on the nave of the church would only be done betweenwhiles, whenever the towers would afford the opportunity, the nave would not be completed according to plan without much delay or, in case of any unlucky development, never. For no difficulty would ever embarrass those [then] in power but that the link between the old and the new work would suffer long postponement. However, since it has already been started with the extension of the side aisles, it will be completed either through us or through those whom the Lord shall elect, He Himself helping. The recollection of the past is the promise of the future. For the most liberal Lord Who, among other greater things, has also provided the makers of the marvelous windows, a rich supply of sapphire glass, and ready funds of about seven hundred pounds or more will not suffer that there be a lack of means for the completion of the work. For He is the beginning and the ending.

Of the Church’s Ornaments

We have thought it proper to place on record the description of the ornaments of the church by which the Hand of God, during our administration, has adorned His church, His Chosen Bride; lest Oblivion, the jealous rival of Truth, sneak in and take away the example for further action. Our Patron, the thrice blessed Denis, is, we confess and proclaim, so generous and benevolent that we believe him to have prevailed upon God to such an extent, and to have obtained from Him so many and so great things, that we might have been able to do for his church a hundred times more than we have done, had not human frailty, the mutability of the times, and the instability of manners prevented it. What we, nevertheless, have saved for him by the grace of God is the following.

Of the Golden Altar Frontal in the Upper Choir

Into this panel, which stands in front of his most sacred body, we have put, according to our estimate, about forty-two marks of gold; [further] a multifarious wealth of precious gems, hyacinths, rubies, sapphires, emeralds and topazes, and also an array of different large pearls -- [a wealth] as great as we had never anticipated to find. You could see how kings, princes, and many outstanding men, following our example, took the rings off the fingers of their hands and ordered, out of love for the Holy Martyrs, that the gold, stones, and precious pearls of the rings be put into that panel. Similarly archbishops and bishops deposited there the very rings of their investiture as though in a place of safety, and offered them devoutly to God and His Saints. And such a crowd of dealers in precious gems flocked in on us from diverse dominions and regions that we did not wish to buy any more than they hastened to sell, with everyone contributing donations. And the verses on this panel are these:

“Great Denis, open the door of Paradise
And protect Suger through thy pious guardianship.
Mayest thou, who hast built a new dwelling for thyself through us,
Cause us to be received in the dwelling of Heaven,
And to be sated at the heavenly table instead of at the present one.
That which is signified pleases more than that which signifies.”

Since it seemed proper to place the most sacred bodies of our Patron Saints in the upper vault as nobly as we could, and since one of the side-tablets of their most sacred sarcophagus had been torn off on some unknown occasion, we put back fifteen marks of gold and took pains to have gilded its rear side and its superstructure throughout, both below and above, with about forty ounces. Further we caused the actual receptacles of the holy bodies to be enclosed with gilded panels of cast copper and with polished stones, fixed close to the inner stone vaults, and also with continuous gates to hold off disturbances by crowds; in such a manner, however, that reverend persons, as was fitting, might be able to see them with great devotion and a flood of tears. On these sacred tombs, however, there are the following verses:

“Where the Heavenly Host keeps watch, the ashes of the Saints
Are implored and bemoaned by the people, and the clergy sings in ten-voiced harmony.
To their spirits are submitted the prayers of the devout,
And if they please them their evil deeds are forgiven.
Here the bodies of the Saints are laid to rest in peace;
May they draw us after them, us who beseech them with fervent prayer.
This place exists as an outstanding asylum for those who come;
Here is safe refuge for the accused, here the avenger is powerless against them.”

Of the Golden Crucifix

We should have insisted with all the devotion of our mind had we but had the power — that the adorable, life-giving cross, the health-bringing banner of the eternal victory of Our Savior (of which the Apostle says: But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross o f our Lord Jesus Christ), should be adorned all the more gloriously as the sign o f the Son o f Man, which will appear in Heaven at the end of the world, will be glorious not only to men but also to the very angels; and we should have perpetually greeted it with the Apostle Andrew: Hail Cross, which art dedicated in the body o f Christ and adorned with His members even as with pearls. But since we could not do as we wished, we wished to do as best we could, and strove to bring it about by the grace of God. Therefore we searched around everywhere by ourselves and by our agents for an abundance of precious pearls and gems, preparing as precious a supply of gold and gems for so important an embellishment as we could find, and convoked the most experienced artists from diverse parts. They would with diligent and patient labor glorify the venerable cross on its reverse side by the admirable beauty of those gems; and on its front -- that is to say in the sight of the sacrificing priest — they would show the adorable image of our Lord the Savior, suffering, as it were, even now in remembrance of His Passion. In fact the blessed Denis had rested on this very spot for five hundred years or more, that is to say, from the time of Dagobert up to our own day. One merry but notable miracle which the Lord granted us in this connection we do not wish to pass over in silence. For when I was in difficulty for want of gems and could not sufficiently provide myself with more (for their scarcity makes them very expensive): then, to and behold, [monks] from three abbeys of two Orders — that is, from Citeaux and another abbey of the same Order, and from Fontevrault — entered our little chamber adjacent to the church and offered us for sale an abundance of gems such as we had not hoped to find in ten years, hyacinths, sapphires, rubies, emeralds, topazes. Their owners had obtained them from Count Thibaut for alms; and he in turn had received them, through the hands of his brother Stephen, King of England, from the treasures of his uncle, the late King Henry, who had amassed them throughout his life in wonderful vessels. We, however, freed from the worry of searching for gems, thanked God and gave four hundred pounds for the lot though they were worth much more.

We applied to the perfection of so sacred an ornament not only these but also a great and expensive supply of other gems and large pearls. We remember, if memory serves, to have put in about eighty marks of refined gold. And barely within two years were we able to have completed, through several goldsmiths from Lorraine -- at times five, at other times seven -- the pedestal adorned with the Four Evangelists; and the pillar upon which the sacred image stands, enameled with exquisite workmanship, and [on it] the history of the Savior, with the testimonies of the allegories from the Old Testament indicated, and the capital above looking up, with its images, to the Death of the Lord. Hastening to honor and extol even more highly the embellishment of so important and sacred a liturgical object, the mercy of our Savior brought to us our Lord Pope Eugenius for the celebration of holy Easter (as is the custom of Roman Pontiffs, when sojourning in Gaul, in honor of the sacred apostolate of the blessed Denis, which we have also experienced with his predecessors, Callixtus and Innocent); and he solemnly consecrated the aforesaid crucifix on that day. Out of the title “The True Cross of the Lord Surpassing All and Every Pearl” he assigned to it a portion from his chapel; and publicly, in the presence of all, he anathematized, by the sword of the blessed Peter and by the sword of the Holy Ghost, whosoever would steal anything there from and whosoever would raise his hand against it in reckless temerity; and we ordered this ban to be inscribed at the foot of the cross.

We hastened to adorn the Main Altar of the blessed Denis where there was only one beautiful and precious frontal panel from Charles the Bald, the third Emperor; for at this [altar] we had been offered to the monastic life. We had it all encased, putting up golden panels on either side and adding fourth, even more precious one; so that the whole altar would appear golden all the way round. On either side, we installed there the two candlesticks of King Louis, son of Philip, of twenty marks of gold, lest they might be stolen on some occasion; we added hyacinths, emeralds, and sundry precious gems; and we gave orders carefully to look out for others to be added further. The verses on these [panels] are these.

On the right side:

“Abbot Suger has set up these altar panels
In addition to that which King Charles has given before.
Make worthy the unworthy through thy indulgence, O Virgin Mary.
May the fountain of mercy cleanse the sins both of the King and the Abbot.”

On the left side:

“If any impious person should despoil this excellent altar
May he perish, deservedly damned, associated with Judas.”

But the rear panel, of marvelous workmanship and lavish sumptuousness (for the barbarian artists were even more lavish than ours), we ennobled with chased relief work equally admirable for its form as for its material, so that certain people might be able to say: The workmanship surpassed the material. Much of what had been acquired and more of such ornaments of the church as we were afraid of losing -- for instance, a golden chalice that was curtailed of its foot and several other things -- we ordered to be fastened there. And because the diversity of the materials such as] gold, gems and pearls is not easily understood by the mute perception of sight without a description, we have seen to it that this work, which is intelligible only to the literate, which shines with the radiance of delightful allegories, be set down in writing. Also we have affixed verses expounding the matter so that the [allegories] might be more clearly understood:

“Crying out with a loud voice, the mob acclaims Christ:


The true Victim offered at the Lord’s Supper has carried all men.
He Who saves all men on the Cross hastens to carry the cross.
The promise which Abraham obtains for his seed is sealed by the flesh of Christ.
Melchizedek offers a libation because Abraham triumphs over the enemy.
They who seek Christ with the Cross bear the cluster of grapes upon a staff.”

Often we contemplate, out of sheer affection for the church our mother, these different ornaments both new and old; and when we behold how that wonderful cross of St. Eloy -- together with the smaller ones -- and that incomparable ornament commonly called “the Crest” are placed upon the golden altar, then I say, sighing deeply in my heart: Every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, the topaz, and the jasper, the chrysolite, and the onyx, and the beryl, the sapphire, and the carbuncle, and the emerald. To those who know the properties of precious stones it becomes evident, to their utter astonishment, that none is absent from the number of these (with the only exception of the carbuncle), but that they abound most copiously. Thus, when -- out of my delight in the beauty of the house of God -- the loveliness of the many-colored gems has called me away from external cares, and worthy meditation has induced me to reflect, transferring that which is material to that which is immaterial, on the diversity of the sacred virtues: then it seems to me that I see myself dwelling, as it were, in some strange region of the universe which neither exists entirely in the slime of the earth nor entirely in the purity of Heaven; and that, by the grace of God, I can be transported from this inferior to that higher world in an anagogical manner. I used to converse with travelers from Jerusalem and, to my great delight, to learn from those to whom the treasures of Constantinople and the ornaments of Hagia Sophia had been accessible, whether the things here could claim some value in comparison with those there. When they acknowledged that these here were the more important ones, it occurred to us that those marvels of which we had heard before might have been put away, as a matter of precaution, for fear of the Franks, lest through the rash rapacity of a stupid few the partisans of the Greeks and Latins, called upon the scene, might suddenly be moved to sedition and warlike hostilities; for wariness is preeminently characteristic of the Greeks. Thus it could happen that the treasures which are visible here, deposited in safety, amount to more than those which had been visible there, left [on view] under conditions unsafe on account of disorders. From very many truthful men, even from Bishop Hugues of Laon, we had heard wonderful and almost incredible reports about the superiority of Hagia Sophia’s and other churches’ ornaments for the celebration of Mass. If this is so — or rather because we believe it to be so, by their testimony — then such inestimable and incomparable treasures should be exposed to the judgment of the many. Let every man abound in his own sense. To me, I con-fess, one thing has always seemed preeminently fitting: that every costlier or costliest thing should serve, first and foremost, for the administration of the Holy Eucharist. I f golden pouring vessels, golden vials, golden little mortars used to serve, by the word of God or the command of the Prophet, to collect the blood o f goats or calves or the red heifer: how much more must golden vessels, precious stones, and whatever is most valued among all created things, be laid out, with continual reverence and full devotion, for the reception of the blood o f Christ! Surely neither we nor our possessions suffice for this service. If, by a new creation, our substance were reformed from that of the holy Cherubim and Seraphim, it would still offer an insufficient and unworthy service for so great and so ineffable a victim; and yet we have so great a propitiation for our sins. The detractors also object that a saintly mind, a pure heart, a faithful intention ought to suffice for this sacred function; and we, too, explicitly and especially affirm that it is these that principally matter. [But] we profess that we must do homage also through the outward ornaments of sacred vessels, and to nothing in the world in an equal degree as to the service of the Holy Sacrifice, with all inner purity and with all outward splendor. For it behooves us most becomingly to serve Our Saviour in all things in a universal way -- Him Who has not refused to provide for us in all things in a universal way and without any exception; Who has fused our nature with His into one admirable individuality; Who, setting us on His right hand, has promised us in truth to possess His kingdom; our Lord Who liveth and reigneth for ever and ever.

WE also undertook to renew, out of reverence for sacred relics, the altar which, by the testimony of the ancients, is called “The Holy Altar” (for so the glorious King Louis, son of Philip, had learned it, as he used to say, from the older residents of this place from early childhood while he was brought up here); for, partly on account of old age, partly for want of faithful care, and partly also on account of the frequent movement occurring on the occasion of solemn decoration -- of which [decorations] different ones are set up for different feasts, the important for the more important ones -- it did not appear to be in very good condition. The sacred porphyry stone on top of this altar, very appropriate no less by the quality of its color than by the quantity of its size, was set into a hollow [frame of] wood covered with gold and very ruined by the lapse of so much time. It was believed that in the front part of this hollow [frame] there was placed, with artful contrivance, an arm of the Apostle St. James, a document inside attesting this through clear disclosure by a most limpid crystal. In the right part, too, there was hidden, as an inside inscription proclaimed through the appearance of a document in the same form, an arm of the Proto-Martyr Stephen; and, likewise, in the left part an arm of St. Vincent, Levite and Martyr. Anxious to be fortified by the protection of so important and sacred relics, I had for a long time joyfully longed to see and to kiss them had I not feared to incur the displeasure of God. Thus, taking courage from our devotion and saving the honor of truth for antiquity, we selected the manner and date for the disclosure of these sacred relics, namely, on the day of the martyrdom of our blessed Patron Saints, viz., the eighth day before the Ides of October. There were present archbishops and bishops from diverse Provinces who, as though paying a debt to the apostolate of all Gaul, had most joyfully come hither to bring pious prayers to the celebration of so great a solemnity, namely: the Archbishops of Lyons, Reims, Tours, and Rouen; the Bishops of Soissons, Beauvais, Senlis, Meaux, Rennes, St. Malo, and Vannes; further, a conflux of abbots and monks or clerics as well as of noblemen; but also an innumerable crowd of people of both sexes. On the day of this solemnity then, after the offices of Tierce had been sung, and when the most solemn procession of so great a day was already being formed before the eyes of all, we, filled as we were — on the mere testimony and writ of our forebears — with so much confidence in the certain truth of the matter as though we had already seen everything, convoked the archbishops, bishops, abbots and the attending personages of high rank to the altar which we proposed to lift from its place; and we explained that we wanted to open it, that we wanted to see the treasure of the most sacred relics. Some of our intimates said, deliberately, that it would have been safer for the reputation of our person and of the church if it had been secretly ascertained whether in truth it were as the documents said. To these I answered on the spot, aroused with the fervor of faith, that, if it was as written, I would prefer that all those who had seen it would know it, than that — in case I had investigated the matter in secret — all those who had not seen it would doubt it. Thus we took down the afore-said altar into our midst; summoned goldsmiths who would carefully open those little compartments, which contained the most sacred arms, where the pieces of crystal that offered their inscriptions to the eye were superimposed upon them; and, God granting, we found everything as we had hoped, all complete and before the eyes of everyone.

We also discovered the reason why the relics had been placed in said little compartments, namely, because Charles the third Emperor who, gloriously buried, lies in front of this altar had ordered by Imperial decree that they be taken out for him from the Imperial repository and be placed near him for the protection of his soul and body. We also found there the evidence, sealed with the impression of his ring, by which everyone was exceedingly pleased. Not without reason would he have ordered that seven lamps in silver vessels — which we had remade because they had gone to pieces — should perpetually burn forever, day and night, before this “Holy Altar,” had he not placed the highest hopes for his body and soul in this deposition of the sacred relics; inasmuch, for the expense of these and of [the services on] his anniversary, and for the repast of his friends [on this occasion], he allocated, under his golden seals, his possession Rueil with its dependencies. This is also why, at about sixty different celebrations, six big and stately wax candles, such as are rarely or never set up elsewhere in the church, are lit round this altar. And this is also why this altar is decked out with noble ornaments as often as is the altar of the blessed Denis.

We further erected the cross, admirable for its size, which is set up between the altar and the tomb of the same Charles, and to the middle of which is fastened, according to tradition, the most noble necklace of Queen Nanthilda, wife of King Dagobert, the founder of the church (another one, however, [we fastened] to the brow of Saint Denis, and this, though smaller, is equaled by none according to the testimony of the most competent artists); [we did this] chiefly out of reverence for the most sacred Iron Collar which, having circled the most sacred neck of the blessed Denis in the “Prison de Glaucin,” has deserved worship and veneration from us and all.

Also, in the same part [of the church] the venerable Abbot Robert of Corbie, of blessed memory, professed in this sacred church and brought up here from childhood — whom we, God granting, had proposed to be placed at the head of said Monastery of Corbie as abbot — has caused to be set up a silver panel, very well gilded, in recognition of his profession and as an act of gratitude for many benefactions from this church.

We also changed to its present form, sympathizing with their discomfort, the choir of the brethren, which had been detrimental to health for a long time on account of the coldness of the marble and the copper and had caused great hardship to those who constantly attended service in church; and because of the increase in our community (with the help of God), we endeavored to enlarge it.

We also caused the ancient pulpit, which — admirable for the most delicate and nowadays irreplaceable sculpture of its ivory tablets — surpassed human evaluation also by the depiction of antique subjects, to be repaired after we had reassembled those tablets which were moldering all too long in, and even under, the repository of the money chests; on the right side we restored to their places the animals of copper lest so much and admirable material perish, and had the whole set up so that the reading of Holy Gospels might be performed in a more elevated place. In the beginning of our abbacy we had already put out of the way a certain obstruction which cut as a dark wall through the central nave of the church, lest the beauty of the church’s magnitude be obscured by such barriers.

Further, we saw to it, both on account of its so exalted function and of the value of the work itself, that the famous throne of the glorious King Dagobert, worn with age and dilapidated, was restored. On it, as ancient tradition relates, the kings of the Franks, after having taken the reins of government, used to sit in order to receive, for the first time, the homage of their nobles.

Also we had regilded the Eagle in the middle of the choir which had become rubbed bare through the frequent touch of admirers.

Moreover, we caused to be painted, by the exquisite hands of many masters from different regions, a splendid variety of new windows, both below and above; from that first one which begins the series with the Tree o f Jesse in the chevet of the church to that which is installed above the principal door in the church’s entrance. One of these, urging us onward from the material to the immaterial, represents the Apostle Paul turning a mill, and the Prophets carrying sacks to the mill. The verses of this subject are these:

“By working the mill, thou, Paul, takest the flour out of the bran.
Thou makest known the inmost meaning of the Law of Moses.
From so many grains is made the true bread without bran,
Our and the angels’ perpetual food.”

Also in the same window, where the veil is taken off the face of Moses:

“What Moses veils the doctrine of Christ unveils.
They who despoil Moses bare the Law.”

In the same window, above the Ark of the Covenant;

“On the Ark of the Covenant is established the altar with the Cross of Christ;
Here Life wishes to die under a greater covenant.”

Also in the same window, where the Lion and Lamb unseal the Book:

“He Who is the great God, the Lion and the Lamb, unseals the Boob.
The Lamb or Lion becomes the flesh joined to God.”

In another window, where the daughter of Pharaoh finds Moses in the ark:

“Moses in the ark is that Man-Child Whom the maiden
Royal, the Church, fosters with pious mind.”

In the same window, where the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush:

“Just as this bush is seen to burn yet is not burned,
So he who is full of this fire Divine burns with it yet is not burned.”

Also in the same [window], where Pharaoh is submerged in the sea with his horsemen:

“What Baptism does to the good, that does to the soldiery of Pharaoh
A like form but an unlike cause.”

Also in the same [window], where Moses raises the brazen serpent:

“Just as the brazen serpent slays all serpents,
So Christ, raised on the Cross, slays His enemies.”

In the same window, where Moses receives the Law on the mount:

“After the Law has been given to Moses the grace of Christ invigorates it.
Grace giveth life, the letter killeth.”

Now, because [these windows] are very valuable on account of their wonderful execution and the profuse expenditure of painted glass and sapphire glass, we appointed an official master craftsman for their protection and repair, and also a skilled goldsmith for the gold and silver ornaments, who would receive their allowances and what was adjudged to them in addition, viz., coins from the altar and flour from the common storehouse of the brethren, and who would never neglect their duty to look after these [works of art].

We further caused to be composed seven candlesticks of enameled and excellently gilded metal work, because those which Emperor Charles had offered to the blessed Denis appeared to be ruined by age.

Also, with the devotion due to the blessed Denis, we acquired vessels of gold as well as of precious stones for the service of the Table of God, in addition to those which the kings of the Franks and those devoted to the church had donated for this service. Specifically we caused to be made a big golden chalice of 140 ounces of gold adorned with precious gems, viz., hyacinths and topazes, as a substitute for another one which had been lost as a Pawn in the time of our predecessor.

We also offered to the blessed Denis, together with some flowers from the crown of the Empress, another most precious vessel of prase, carved into the form of a boat, which King Louis, son of Philip, had left in pawn for nearly ten years; we had purchased it with the King’s permission for sixty marks of silver when it had been offered to us for inspection. It is an established fact that this vessel, admirable for the quality of the precious stone as well as for the latter’s unimpaired quantity, is adorned with “verroterie cloisonnee” work by St. Eloy which is held to be most precious in the judgment of all goldsmiths.

Still another vase, looking like a pint bottle of beryl or crystal, which the Queen of Aquitaine had presented to our Lord King Louis as a newly wed bride on their first voyage, and the King to us as a tribute of his great love, we offered most affectionately to the Divine Table for libation. We have recorded the sequence of these gifts on the vase itself, after it had been adorned with gems and gold, in some little verses:

“As a bride, Eleanor gave this vase to King Louis,
Mitadolus to her grandfather, the King to me, and Suger to the Saints.”

We also procured for the services at the aforesaid altar a precious chalice out of one solid sardonyx, which [word] derives from “sardius” and “onyx"; in which one [stone] the sard’s red hue, by varying its property, so keenly vies with the blackness of the onyx that one property seems to be bent on trespassing upon the other.

Further we added another vase shaped like a ewer, very similar to the former in material but not in form, whose little verses are these:

“Since we must offer libations to God with gems and gold,
I, Suger, offer this vase to the Lord.”

We also gladly added to the other vessels for the same office an excellent gallon vase, which Count Thibaut of Blois had conveyed to us in the same case in which the King of Sicily had sent it to him. Also we deposited in the same place the little crystal vases which we had assigned to the daily service in our [private] chapel.

And further we adapted for the service of the altar, with the aid of gold and silver material, a porphyry vase, made admirable by the hand of the sculptor and polisher, after it had lain idly in a chest for many years, converting it from a flagon into the shape of an eagle; and we had the following verses inscribed on this vase:

“This stone deserves to be enclosed in gems and gold.
It was marble, but in these [settings] it is more precious than marble.”

For all this we thank Almighty God and the Holy Martyrs, since He has not refused abundantly to bestow upon the most sacred altar, at which He willed us to be offered as a child under the precepts of our holy rule, that with which we may serve Him in worthy manner.

And since we are convinced that it is useful and becoming not to hide but to proclaim Divine benefactions, we have destined for this purpose that increase in textiles which the Hand Divine has granted to this sacred church in the time of our administration; we urge that they be laid out on our anniversary in order to propitiate the supreme power of Divine Majesty and to enhance the devotion of the brethren, and as an example for the succeeding abbots. For late and scanty penance cannot atone for so many and so great sins as I have committed, nor for the enormity of my crimes, unless we rely upon the intercession of the Universal Church.
More about
Gothic Art, Middle Ages

Gothic Art

The race for height

1144 – 1500

By continuing to browse Obelisk you agree to our Cookie Policy