While looking at St. Denis Basilica, one may enjoy an exposure of the monumental large by size abbey church in the former city of Saint-Denis. Currently, the Basilica belongs to the Northern part of Paris and demonstrates the architectural honor of the city. In terms of architecture, the Basilica demonstrates a full scope of use of the Gothic elements in the architecture. Some of its elements were completed in 1144. In addition to the Gothic architectural ensemble, the Basilica carries an interesting historical roots, dating back to the Gallo-Roman times and its imprint on the French architecture.
Before Basilica was constructed, it was the Gallo-Roman cemetery, and people buried there believed in the mix of Christian and pre-Christian beliefs. Few centuries, a small chapel was constructed first and then transformed into the construction of the monumental church, that would later become a burial place of the French kings. The symbolism of the Basilica is not only related to the architecture and the use of the only Gothic style. Additionally, Saint-Denis Basilica was a place where most of the French kings were buried between the 10th and the 18thcentury. Hence, it became a crucial place for understanding the monarchic history of France and to follow the transformation of the perception of the French identity.
While looking at the architecture of the St. Denis Basilica, one shall primarily refer to the 12th century when the major structural and innovative features were established. At that time, a French abbot and a statesman decided to introduce the new features into the architecture of the church. In particular, the new decorative elements were added to the design of the church. That is how the church became the first truly Gothic building of its kind in French. Many architects would further refer to the building as to the prototype of the Gothic style in architecture and model further churches based on the St. Denis Basilica. For many centuries, St. Denis Basilica would remain a significant abbey. But in the 1966 it would be transformed into the cathedral. Since then, it would host a seat of the Bishop of Saint-Denis.
A fascinating architecture of the Saint-Denis Basilica would catch a lot of attention to its structure and design. Not only it was the first and exemplary abbey constructed in the Gothic style, but its style and stylistics well reflect a combination of Gothic and Romanesque architecture styles. Before the St. Basilica was constructed, the term ‘Gothic’ was not used as such. Before, it was known as ‘French style’ but after the style was copied on other buildings, it was then known as the St. Denis Basilica.
Unfortunately, little information is preserved about the earliest buildings of Basilica, as most of the construction is no longer preserved. Hence, the architectural analysis will mostly touch base the period of starting from 11th century. One of the inherent features in the Gothic architecture is the form of construction. In particular, it is constructed in the large cruciform known for ‘basilica’. The windows are special in their kind, too. The number of aisles is rather uncommon, too with the additional northern aisle constructed in the form of small chapels. In addition to that, the Basilica is well-known for preserving stained glass from many centuries, some of which are truly exceptional. In total, the length of Basilica amounts to 108 meters, and it is 39 meters wide. Many features of the current way of what Basilica looks like these days comes from the fascination of light by the Abbot Suger. His role in establishing an architectural ensemble of the Basilica and the way it looks like these days shall not be underestimated. At the same time, it is important to understand that he was not an architect but was a key person behind an inspiration for the building.
While looking at Basilica as an ordinary visitor, one can clearly note that it demonstrates the meaning of the power by the way it is constructed. Until the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789, the building was a clear implication of the monarchic power. However, as the Revolution took place, the influence of the Basilica faded away. Some of the sculptures were severely damaged inside the abbey. It was reconstructed as late as the 19th century and transformed into an ordinary church. While going inside the church, one can also observe the crypts that still reflect the power of the monarchic church. For instance, there is a body of the beheaded Kind Louis XVI and his family. Additionally, the bodies of other Bourbon kings and their families are located there, too. Hence, Basilica played not only a role of a space for praying but was also an important symbolic building linked to the royal dynasties that underwent significant transformations as the historical époques were changing one after another.
To sum up, the way how Basilica currently looks like largely resembles an original way since it was constructed. One can still enjoy the sound of the pipe organ, raise a head up and see the clerestory windows and look at the implications of the Holy Trinity in the sculptures of the buildings. Overall, the St. Denis Basilica is the first and the most unique example for understanding the meaning of the Gothic style in architecture. Understanding its architecture would tell a lot about the transformations in the French history.
- Uffelen, C., & Kunz, M. (2005). Paris. Düsseldorf, Germany: TeNeues.