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Texts Relating to Gothic Architecture

Abbot Suger in Annunciation panel from the Infancy Window in Saint Denis.

Abbot Suger, De Consecratione , II:
Through a fortunate circumstance attending this singular smallness- the number of faithful growing and frequently gathering to seek the intercession of the Saints- the aforesaid basilica had come to suffer grave inconveniences. Often on feast days, completely filled, it disgorged through all its doors the excess of crowds as they moved in opposite directions, and the outward pressure of the foremost ones not only prevented those attempting to enter from entering but also expelled those who had already entered. At time you could see, a marvel to behold, that the crowded multitude offered so much resistance to those who strove to flock in to worship and kiss the holy relics, the Nail and Crown of the Lord, that no one among the countless thousands of people because of their density could move a foot; that no one, because of their congestion, could[do] anything but stand like a marble statue, stay benumbed or, as a last resort, scream. The distress of the women, however, was so great and so intolerable that [you could see] how they, squeezed in by the mass of strong men as in a winepress, exhibited bloodless faces as in imagined death; how they cried out horrible as though in labor; how several of them, miserably trodden underfoot [but they], lifted by the pious assistance of men above the heads of the crowd, marched forward as though clinging to a pavement; and how many others, gasping with their last breath, panted in the cloisters of the brethren to the despair of everyone. Moreover the brethren who were showing the tokens of the Passion of Our Lord to the visitors had to yield to their anger and rioting and many a time, having no place to turn, escaped with the relics through the windows....

De Administratione, c. 1144-1148:


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, let 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 thine, 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 structure] 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 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 that 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."


XXVIII: ...That the divine hand which accomplished such things protected this glorious work is shown by the fact that it allowed the entire magnificent edifice, from the crypt below to the summit of the vaults above, varied by the division of numerous arches and columns, and even the roof, to be completed in three years and three months. Thus the inscription of the earlier consecration, with only one word added, would include the year of completion of this building: The year when it was consecrated was the one thousand, one hundred, forty and fourth year of the Word.

To these verses of the inscription we decided to add the following:

When the new rear part is joined to that in front,
The church shines, brightened in its middle.
For bright is that which is brightly coupled with the bright
And which the new light pervades,
Bright is the noble work Enlarged in our time
I, who was Suger, having been leader
While it was accomplished.

Eager, therefore, to follow up on my successes, since I desired nothing under heaven except to pursue the honor of mother church - which had suckled the babe with maternal affection, supported the stumbling youth, powerfully strengthened the mature man, and solemnly placed him among the leaders of church and kingdom - we applied ourselves to completion of the work and plunged into the task of raising the transept wings of the church to correspond with the earlier and later parts which would be joined together by them.

Tree of Jesse Window: based on Isaiah 11: 1: And there shall come forth a rod out of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root.

Suger presenting Tree of Jesse Window

After Suger, the image of the Tree of Jesse was widely popular in Gothic Stained Glass windows (see the west facade of Chartres Cathedral) and manuscript illustrations. The image emphasizes the human descent of Christ.

"Anagogical" Window


XXXIV: 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 the first one which begins [the series] with the Tree of Jesse in the chevet of the church to that which 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,

Ours and the angels' perpetual food

Capital of the Mystic Mill from Vezelay.

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 bare Moses despoil the Law.

From the Anagogical Window of St. Denis: Christ with doves representing the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit is flanked by the Church (Eclesia) and the Synagogue who is being unveiled by Christ.

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 the Lamb unseal the Book:

He Who is the great God, the Lion and the Lamb unseals the Book.

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 received 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 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 goldsmith skilled in gold and silver ornament, who would receive their allowances and what are adjudged to them in addition, viz., coins from the altar and flour from the common storehouse of the brethern, and who would never neglect their duty to look after these....


The relic of the Tunic of the Virgin from Chartres Cathedral.

Miracles of the Virgin :

Therefore, in the year 1194 after the Incarnation of the Lord, since the church of Chartres had been devastated on the third of the Ides of June [June 10] by an extraordinary and lamentable fire making it necessary later, after the walls had been broken up and demolished and leveled to the ground, to repair the foundations and then erect a new church.

The inhabitants of Chartres, clerics as well as laymen, whose homes and practically all their furnishings the aforementioned fire had consumed, all deplored the destruction of the church to such an extent that they made absolutely no mention of their own losses; they considered as their chief misfortune, or rather the totality of their misfortune, the fact that they, unhappy wretches, in justice for their sins, had lost the palace of the Blessed Virgin, the special glory of the city, the showpiece of the entire region, the incomparable house of prayer....

Indeed when for several days they had not seen the most sacred reliquary of the Blessed Mary, transferred to a more hidden place out of fear of the fire, the population of Chartres was seized with incredible anguish and grief, concluding that it was unworthy to restore the structures of the city or the church, if it had lost such a precious treasure, [which was] indeed the glory of the whole city. At last, on a particular holy day, when the entire populace had assembled by order of the clergy at the spot where the church had stood, the above-mentioned reliquary was brought forth from the crypt.... The fact must not be passed over that when, at the time of the fire, the reliquary frequently referred to had been moved by certain persons into the lower crypt (whose entrance the laudable foresight of the ancients had cut near the altar of the Blessed Mary), and they had been shut up there, not daring to go back out because of the fire now raging, they were so preserved from mortal danger under the protection of the Blessed Mary that neither did the rain of burning timbers falling from above shatter the iron door covering the face of the crypt, nor did the drops of melted lead penetrate it, nor the heap of burning coals overhead injure it.... And after such a fierce conflagration, when men who were considered already dead from smoke or excessive heat had come back unharmed, all present were filled with such gladness that they rejoiced together, weeping affectionately with them....

When, following the ruins of the walls mentioned above, necessity demanded that a new church be built and the wagons were at last ready to fetch the stone, all beckoned as well as exhorted each other to obey instantly and do without delay whatever they thought necessary for this construction or [whatever] the master workers prescribed. But the gifts or assistance of the laymen would never have been adequate to raise such a structure had not the bishop and the canons contributed so much money, as stated above, for three years from their own revenues. For this became evidence to everyone at the end of the three-year period when all finances suddenly gave out, so that the supervisors had no wages for the workmen, nor did they have in view anything that could be given otherwise. But I recall that at that moment someone said- I know not by what spirit of prophecy- that the purses would fail before the coins need for the work on the church of Chartres [were obtained]. What is there to add? Since, in view of the utter failure of human resources, it was necessary for the divine to appear, the blessed Mother of God, desiring that a new and incomparable church be erected in which she could perform her miracles, stirred up the power of this son of hers by her merits and prayers. When there was a large gathering of people there, she openly and clearly exhibited a new miracle, one unheard of for a long time past, seen by all for the first time. As a result, news of the miracle spread far and wide through the whole of Gaul and made it easier to give credence to succeeding miracles.

Detail of the Miracles of the Virgin window from the south side of the nave of Chartres Cathedral. The central roundel shows faithful worshipping at a shrine which has a golden statue of the Virgin and Child. The worshipers include a young boy offering a crutch perhaps in thanks for a cure attributed to the Virgin. A group of figures including a cleric offer a cross perhaps as a votive offering to the Virgin. Another group of figures lead by a figure figure pulling a rope over his shoulders are linked to the adjacent roundel of people pulling a cart laden with building supplies. In the corresponding roundel on the right another group of figures pull a cart this time carrying barrels of apparently wine. These scenes perhaps refer to the so-called cult of the carts when lay people out of devotion to the Virgin pulled carts to assist in the construction of the Cathedral. The image above of the Crowned Virgin and Child adored by angels perhaps signifies that the devotion directed the image in the scene below is directed to the heavenly prototype above. The pose of the Virgin and Child recalls the Sedes Sapientiae image from the south tympanum of the Royal Portals and the "Belle Verrière" from the window in the south side of the choir.

The Chronicle of Robert de Torigny, Abbot of Mont Saint Michel, c. 1134: In this same year, primarily at Chartres, men began, with their own shoulders, to drag the wagons loaded with stone, wood, grain, and other materials to the workshop of the churchm whose towers were then rising. Anyone who has not witnessed this will not see the like in our time. Not only there, but also in nearly the whole of France and Normandy and in many other places, [one saw] everywhere humility and afflictio, everywhere penance and the forgiveness of offenses, everywhere moutning and contrition. One might observe women as well as men dragging [wagons] through deep swamps on their knees, beating themselves with whips, numerous wonders occurring everywhere, canticles and hymns being offered to God. On this point there exists a previously unknown letter by Hugh, Archbishop of Rouen, to [Theodore], Bishop of Amiens, examining this matter. One might say that the prophecy was being fulfilled: "The breath of life was in the wheels" [Ezek. 1:20].