Abbot Suger: ON WHAT WAS DONE IN HIS ADMINISTRATION
Suger was born in 1081 of a very minor knightly family He was
dedicated to the abbey of St. Denis at the age of nine or ten and came
to see himself as its adopted child. Appointed abbot in 1122, he held
that position until his death in 1155.
His office was a highly prestigious one. The abbey had been
founded in the seventh century by the Frankish king Dagobert in honor
of Denis, the patron saint of France, and his legendary companions
Rusticus and Eleutherius. By Suger's time it had long been the royal
abbey of France. Kings were educated and buried there.
In Suger's time, the French monarchy was slowly but surely on
the way up. The king was gradually gaining power over his unruly
nobles and would eventually use that power to win a major role in
European affairs. Most of that development was still in the future,
but by 1137 the pendulum was already beginning to swing. As royal
abbey, St. Denis was a symbol of royal power, and what was done to
it redounded to the glory of both the monarch and Franca Thus its
renovation was a political as well as an architectural and religious
Suger was in a position to recognize this fact. His status as
abbot made him one of the most powerful men in France. He was
actively engaged in French political life and virtually ran the kingdom
while King Louis VI was away on crusade. A fervent patriot, Suger
never hesitated to identify the best interests of king, France, Church,
abbey and God.
The old abbey church of St. Denis had been completed in 775. By
1137 it was dilapidated and probably would have been viewed with
extreme suspicion by a modern building inspector. Thus Suger decided
improvement was in order and in that year he began work on the
west end of the church, building a new facade with two towers and
three doors. In 1140 he moved from the west end clear to the other
end of the church and started to build a new choir. It was completed
in 1144. The result was a major event in the history of architecture.
Gothic was born.
The influence of the abbey church on French architecture was
undoubtedly furthered by its role as political symbol. When the new
choir was consecrated in 1144, five French archbishops and thirteen
bishops took part in the ceremony, an impressive tribute to Suger and
his king. It was the French archbishops and bishops who would
assume initiative in the future development of Gothic architecture.
For Suger, of course, the primary significance of his church was
neither political nor architectural but religious, insofar as he could
separate the three. His main goal was to honor God and St. Denis. The
latter deserves some attention. According to legend, he entered Gaul
as a missionary in A.D. 250 and was executed in Paris eight years
later. It was not all that easy. The Romans unsuccessfully tried
roasting him on a gridiron, throwing him to the beasts, and baking him
in an oven before they hit upon the idea of beheading him. That
worked, but not immediately, for the decapitated saint picked up his
head and walked two miles to the future site of the abbey before
giving up the ghost.
However wonderful his legend may seem, medieval historians made it
even better by confusing him with two other figures of the same name.
"Denis" is the French version of the Latin "Dionysius," the name Suger
actually used. We encounter another Dionysius in Acts 17:34,
converted during Paul's brief missionary visit to Athens. Five centuries
later, in the late fifth or early sixth century, an anonymous Syrian
theologian fascinated by the religious symbolism of light wrote a
series of treatises which were attributed to the Dionysius of Acts
17:34. Eventually all the elements were combined and, according the
legend, Dionysius was converted by Paul, became bishop of Athens,
wrote the treatises, and eventually missionized France where he was
The identification is more important than one might at first
imagine. The figure of St. Denis united the various aspects of the
church in a peculiar way. As patron saint of France, his interests were
tied to those of France in a twofold sense. His glorification was hers
in a very direct way because he symbolized France. It was also hers
more indirectly because, lake other saints, Denis would not neglect to
reward a favor, and thus one could expect him to intervene for king
and country more enthusiastically if his church was generously
Denis also united the religious and architectural aspects of the
new church. It is hardly a coincidence that both the pseudo-Dionysian
treatises and nascent Gothic architecture are interested in light. As
we shall see, Suger himself was fascinated by the religious
implications of light and built accordingly
The Book of Suger Abbot of St. Denis on What Was Done During his
Administrationis one of two works by Suger concerning the abbey
church of St. Denis. It was probably begun shortly after the
consecration of the choir in 1144 and finished no earlier than the end
of 1148. All of the work that has survived is reproduced here.
In the twenty-third year of our administration, on a certain day
when we sat in general chapter conferring with our brethren about
common and private matters, these same dear brothers and sons
began to beg me vigorously and in love that I should not remain silent
about the fruit of our past labors but rather with pen and ink should
preserve for future memory the additions which the munificence of
almighty God bestowed upon this church during the time of our
leadership in the acquisition of new things, the recovery of lost ones,
the multiplication of refurbished possessions, the construction of
buildings, and the accumulation of gold, silver, precious gems and
quality textiles. From this one thing they promised us two in return:
Through this memorial we should earn the prayers of succeeding
brothers for the salvation of our soul; and through this example we
should arouse in them a zealous commitment to the proper
maintenance of God's church. We therefore, devoutly assenting to
their devout and reasonable requests, without hungering for empty
glory or demanding the reward of human praise or impermanent
earthly reward, lest after our passing the revenues of the church
should be diminished by someone's fraud, lest the abundant additions
conferred upon the church by God's munificence during the time of our
administration should be quietly lost by unworthy successors, we
thought it proper and useful to inform present and future readers of
the increase in revenues, construction of buildings and multiplication
of treasures in the church of the most blessed martyrs Denis, Rusticus
and Eleutherius, a church that tenderly fostered us from mothers
breast to old age
XXIV. Concerning the Decoration of the Church
Having thus assigned these increases in the revenue, we turned
back to the memorable construction of buildings, so that through this
activity thanks might be given to almighty God by us and our
successors, and enthusiasm for its continuation and, if necessary, for
its completion should be fired by good example. For neither poverty
nor opposition by any power is to be feared if one securely makes use
of one's own resources through love for the holy martyrs.
Therefore, by divine inspiration, the first work we did on the
church was as follows. Because the walls were old and threatened to
weaken in some places, having summoned the best painters we could
find from various places, we devoutly had the walls repaired and
worthily painted with gold and costly colors. I carried this task out all
the more gladly because, even when I was a student, I had wanted to
do so if ever I had the opportunity.
XXV. Concerning the First Addition to the Church
Even while this was being carried out at great expense,
however, because of the inadequacy we often felt on special days
such as the feast of the blessed Denis, the fair, and many other times,
when the narrowness of the place forced women to run to the altar
on the heads of men as on a pavement with great anguish and
confusion; for this reason, moved by divine inspiration and
encouraged by the council of wise men as well as the prayers of many
monks, in order to avoid the displeasure of the holy martyrs I
undertook to enlarge and amplify the noble monastic church
consecrated by the divine hand, devoutly praying both in our chapter
and in church that he who is beginning and end, alpha and omega,
should join a good end with a good beginning by way of a sound
middle, and that he might not exclude from the building of the temple
a bloody man who wholeheartedly desired this more than the
treasures of Constantinople. Thus we began with the former main
entrance, dismantling a certain addition said to have been built by
Charlemagne on a very worthy occasion, because his father, the
Emperor Pepin, had ordered that he be buried outside that entrance,
face down, for the sins of his father Charles Martel. As is obvious, we
exerted ourselves, vehemently enlarging the body of the church,
tripling the entrance and doors, and erecting tall, worthy towers.
XXVI. Concerning the Dedication
We managed to have the chapel of St. Romanus dedicated to the
service of God and his holy angels by that venerable man Archbishop
Hugh of Rouen and by many other bishops. Those who serve God there
as if, even as they sacrifice, they dwell at least partly in heaven,
know how secluded, hallowed and convenient for the celebration of
divine rites this place is. At the same dedication ceremony, two
chapels in the lower nave of the church - one for St. Hippolytus and
his companions on one side and one for St. Nicholas on the other -
were dedicated by those venerable men Manassas, Bishop of Meaux,
and Peter, Bishop of Senlis. The single glorious procession of these
three men went out through the door of Saint Eustace; then passed in
front of the main doors with a throng of singing clergy and a crowd of
rejoicing laymen, the bishops walking in front and carrying out the
holy consecration; then, thirdly, they entered through the single door
of the cemetery which had been transferred from the old building to
the new. And when this festive work had been completed to the honor
of almighty God and we, a bit tired, were preparing to officiate in the
upper part, they revived us, very graciously encouraging us not to be
depressed by consideration of the labor and funding problems that lay
XXVII. Concerning the Cast and Gilded Doors
Having summoned bronze casters and chosen sculptors, we
erected the main doors, on which are represented the passion and
resurrection or ascension of Christ, with great expense and heavy
outlay for their gilding as befits such a noble portico. We also set up
new ones on the right, and old ones on the left beneath the mosaic
which, contrary to modern custom, we had placed in the tympanum.
We also arranged to have the towers and upper crenelations of the
front altered with an eye to beauty and, should circumstances
require, to utility. We also ordered that, lest it be forgotten, the year
of the consecration should be inscribed in copper-gilt letters in this
- For the glory of the church which nurtured and raised him,
- Suger strove for the glory of the church, Sharing with
- you what is yours, oh martyr Denis. He prays that by your
- prayers he should become a sharer in Paradise.The year
- when it was consecrated was the one thousand, one
- hundred and fortieth year of the Word.
Furthermore, the verses on the doors are these:
- All you who seek to honor these doors,
- Marvel not at the gold and expense but at the
- craftsmanship of the work.
- The noble work is bright, but, being nobly bright, the work
- Should brighten the minds, allowing them to travel through
- the lights
- To the true light, where Christ is the true door.
- The golden door defines how it is imminent in these things.
- The dull mind rises to the truth through material things,
- And is resurrected from its former submersion when the
- light is seen.
And on the lintel was written,
- Receive, stern Judge, the prayers of your Suger,
- Let me be mercifully numbered among your sheep.
XXVIII. Concerning the Enlargement of the Upper Choir
In the same year, cheered by so holy and auspicious a work, we
hurried to begin on the upper part of the chamber of divine
atonement, in which the perpetual and frequent victim of our
redemption should be sacrificed in secret without disturbance by the
crowds. And as can be found in the treatise on the consecration of
this upper part, we, along with our brothers and fellow servants,
were mercifully enabled to bring such a glorious and famous work to
a favorable conclusion, God having aided us and given success to us
and our endeavors. We were all the more indebted to God and the holy
martyrs inasmuch as he, by long postponement, had reserved the task
for our age and labor. "For who am I, and what is my father's house"
(I Kings 18:18) that I should have presumed to begin or hoped to
complete such a noble, pleasing edifice unless, relying upon the aid of
divine mercy and of the holy martyrs, I applied myself completely,
mind and body, to the enterprise? Yet he who gave the will also
provided the power, and because the good work was present in the
will, it came to perfection with God's help.
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
- 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.
XXIX. Concerning the Continuation of Both Works
This being done, when, through the persuasion of certain people,
we had applied our effort to work on a front tower (the other already
having been completed), the divine will, we believe, drew us away to
another project: We would endeavor to renovate the middle part of
the church, which they call the nave, conforming and equalizing it
with the two remodeled parts. Nevertheless, we would save as much
as possible of the old walls, on which, according to the testimony of
ancient writers, the high priest Lord Jesus Christ had placed his hand.
We sought to safeguard both reverence for the ancient consecration
and a harmonious coherence with the modern work according to the
pattern already established.
The main reason for this change of schedule was that if, in our
time or that of our successors, work on the nave of the church
proceeded only intermittently when the towers allowed it, then the
nave as planned would be completed only much later or, if any
misfortune should occur, never at all. For those in charge would have
been troubled by no difficulty that did not result in a long delay in
joining the old and new parts. But since a beginning has now been
made with the extension of the aisles, the whole thing will be finished
by us or by those whom God may elect, He Himself helping. For
remembrance of the past is foresight of the future. Moreover, the
most generous lord, who among other, greater things has provided
the makers of our marvelous windows with opulent sapphire and
ready cash of around seven hundred pounds or more, will not allow
the project to remain incomplete through lack of funds. He is, indeed,
"the beginning and the end" (Rev. 21:6).
XXX. Concerning the Ornaments of the Church
Lest forgetfulness, the rival of truth, should slip in and snatch
away a good example for future behavior, we have thought it
worthwhile to provide a description of the ornaments with which the
hand of God has adorned the church, his chosen bride. We confess our
lord the thrice-blessed Denis to be so generous and benevolent that,
as we believe, he has intervened for us before God so strongly and so
often, obtaining so many and so great benefits, that we could have
done a hundred times more than we actually did for his church if
human weakness, shifting circumstances and changing customs had
not prevented it. Nevertheless, what we, by the gift of God, have
collected for him is hereby listed.
XXXI. Concerning the Golden Altar Frontal in the Upper Choir
Into this panel, which stands before his most sacred body, we
estimate that we have put around forty-two marks of gold, a rich
abundance of precious gems - hyacinths, rubies, sapphires, emeralds
and topazes - and a variety of pearls, more than we ever hoped to
find. You would see kings, princes and many outstanding men,
imitating us, remove the rings from their fingers and order that the
gold, gems and precious pearls of the rings be set in the panel. In the
same way archbishops and bishops, depositing the rings of their
investiture there for safekeeping, devoutly offered them up to God
and his saints. Such a large crowd of gem-dealers flowed in upon us
from various kingdoms and nations that we sought to buy no more
than they hastened to sell, money being provided by all. The verses on
this panel are as follows:
- Great Denis, open the doors of Paradise,
- And protect Suger through your holy defenses.
- May you, who have built a new chamber for yourself through us,
- Cause us to be received in the chamber of heaven
- And to be satiated at the heavenly table
- Instead of the present one.
- That which is signified pleases more than that which signifies.
Because it was proper for us to place the most sacred bodies of
our lords in the upper vault as nobly as possible, and one of the side-
panels of their most holy sarcophagus had been torn off on some
unknown occasion, we put aside fifteen marks of gold and took pains
to have the rear side and the whole outside container, above and
below, gilded with about forty ounces. Moreover, we had the
receptacles which contain the holy bodies covered with copper-gilt
panels and polished stone attached over the stone vaults, with
continuous gates which would keep unruly crowds at a distance yet
allow distinguished persons to view these receptacles with great
devotion and a flood of tears. Here are the verses on these sacred
- Where the heavenly host stands guard,
- The people beseech and bemoan the ashes of the saints,
- While the clergy sing in ten-voiced harmony.
- The prayers of the pious are directed to their spirits
- And if they are acceptable to them their sins are forgiven.
- The bodies of the saints are entombed here in peace.
May they carry off after them us who beseech them with many prayers.
- This place is an admirable asylum for those who come.
- Here is safe flight for the accused,
- The avenger is subjected to him.
XXXII. Concerning the Golden Cross
Had we been able, we would have insisted that the sacred, life-giving
cross, healing banner of our savior's eternal victory, of which the
apostle says, "God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of
Christ" (Gal. 6:14), be adorned all the more gloriously inasmuch as it is
"the sign of the Son of Man who will appear in the heavens" (Mtt.
24:30) at the end, not only to men but to angels, and we would have
greeted it perpetually as did the apostle Andrew: "Hail, cross,
dedicated to Christ's body and adorned with his members like pearls."
Nevertheless, since we could not do as we wished, we wished to do as
well as we could and, God providing, we worked to fulfill our plans.
Thus, searching all about (personally and through our agents) for a
large supply of precious pearls and gems, preparing as costly a supply
of gold and gems as we could find for such ornamentation, we called
together the most experienced artisans from various places. Working
cautiously and accurately, they were to exalt the venerable cross on
its reverse side by the addition of these wondrous gems, while on the
front, in sight of the sacrificing priest, they would display the sacred
image of our lord and savior in remembrance of his suffering and as
still suffering on the cross. Of course the blessed Denis had lain in
that same spot for five hundred years and more, from Dagobert's time
to our own.
We do not wish to pass in silence over one humorous yet noble
miracle which the Lord displayed to us in this connection. Just when I
was in need of gems and unable to purchase enough (for rarity makes
them more expensive), monks from three abbeys belonging to two
different orders - that is, from Citeaux, from another abbey of the
same order, and from Fontevrault - entered our little room adjoining
the church and offered for sale a greater supply of gems than we
would have hoped to find in ten years. They had obtained them as
alms from Count Theobold, who had received them through his brother
King Stephen of England from the treasury of his uncle the late King
Henry. Theobold had stored them up throughout his life in marvelous
vessels. We, however, freed from the burden of searching for gems,
thanked God and paid four hundred pounds for the whole collection,
although they were worth a good deal more.
In order to perfect such a holy ornament, we added, not only
these, but a great number of other expensive gems. If memory serves
us correctly, we recall having applied around eighty marks of refined
gold. Through the work of several Lotharingian goldsmiths
-sometimes five, sometimes seven - we were able to have completed,
in barely two years, the pedestal adorned with the four evangelists,
the pillar upon which the sacred image stands, the story of the savior
with testimonies of allegories from the Old Testament indicated on it,
and the capital above which renders wondrously the death of our
Hastening to exalt the decoration of such a fine and holy
instrument, the mercy of our savior brought us Pope Eugenius to
celebrate holy Easter as is the custom with popes visiting Gaul,
honoring the sacred apostolate of blessed Denis just as we had seen
his predecessors Calixtus and Innocent do before him. He solemnly
consecrated the crucifix on that day. From the title "Of the True Cross,
which exceeds Each and Every Pearl," he assigned to it a portion from
his own chapel. Publicly, in the presence of all, by the sword of the
blessed Peter and the sword of the Holy Spirit, he anathematized
whoever should steal anything from this place or recklessly raise his
hand against it; and we had this anathema inscribed at the foot of the
We hastened to decorate the main altar of the blessed Denis,
which had only a beautiful and sumptuous frontal panel from the time
of Charles the Bald, the third emperor; for at this very altar we had
been dedicated to the monastic life. We had it entirely covered,
adding gold panels on each side. And a fourth, even more precious
one, so that the whole altar would appear to be gold all the way
around. On the sides we placed two candlesticks of King Louis, the son
of Philip, so that they would not be stolen on some occasion. We
added hyacinths, emeralds, and various other precious gems, ordering
a diligent search for others which could be added. These are the
verses on the panels: On the right side,
- The Abbot Suger put up these altar panels
- In addition to the one already given by King Charles.
- Make the unworthy worthy by your forgiveness, Virgin
- Let the fountain of mercy wash away the sins of king and abbot.
On the left side,
- If an impious man should plunder this excellent altar,
- Let him perish along with Judas, equally damned.
The rear panel, a product of marvelous workmanship and lavish
expenditure - for the barbarian artists were more lavish than our own
- we exalted with a relief that was marvelous in both form and
material so that certain people might say, "The workmanship
surpassed the material." Much of what we had acquired and an even
greater number of previously-owned ornaments which we were
afraid of losing - for example, a gold chalice with a mutilated foot and
several other things - we had fastened there. And since the variety of
materials - the gold, gems and pearls - cannot be understood easily
through visual examination bereft of verbal description, we crowned
this work, which discloses its meaning only to the literate and shines
with the radiance of delightful allegories, with a written explanation.
So that these allegories might be clearly understood, we affixed
verses explaining them.
- Crying out with a loud voice the people shout "Hosanna" to Christ.
- The true victim given in the meal bears all.
- He who saves all on the cross hastens to bear the cross.
- The flesh of Christ seals the promise to Abraham's offspring.
- Melchizadech makes an offering because Abraham defeats the enemy.
- They who seek Christ with the cross bear a cluster of grapes
- on a staff.
When, out of affection for the Church, we contemplate these
new and old ornaments, seeing that admirable cross of St. Eloi, the
lesser crosses, and that incomparable ornament commonly called "the
crest" all placed on the golden altar, I say, sighing right down to my
heart, "Every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, the topaz,
and the jaspar, the chrysolite and the onyx, and the beryl, the
sapphire and the carbuncle, and the emerald" (Ez. 28:13). Those
familiar with the properties of gems note to their astonishment that
no type except the carbuncle is lacking here, but rather all abound in
Thus sometimes when, because of my delight in the beauty of
the house of God, the multicolor loveliness of the gems has called me
away from external cares, and worthy meditation, transporting me
from material to immaterial things, has persuaded me to examine the
diversity of holy virtues, then I seem to see myself existing on some
level, as it were, beyond our earthly one, neither completely in the
slime of earth nor completely in the purity of heaven. By the gift of
God I can be transported in an anagogical manner from this inferior
level to that superior one.
I used to confer with Jerusalemites, and I was eager to learn from
those who had seen the treasures of Constantinople and decorations
of Hagia Sophia whether these here were worth anything in
comparison. When some considered these here to be greater, it
seemed to us that, through fear of the Franks, those marvelous
objects of which we had once heard had been prudently put away lest
by the impetuous greed of a few stupid people the friendship
nurtured between Greek and Latin should suddenly change to sedition
and warfare; for cunning is a preeminently Greek characteristic. Thus
it may be that there is more displayed here, where it is safe, than
there, where it is unsafe because of disorders. From many
trustworthy men, and from Archbishop Hugh of Laon, we have heard
wonderful and nearly incredible reports concerning the superior
ornamentation of Hagia Sophia and other churches. If these reports
are true - or more precisely, because we believe their testimony is
indeed true - then such inestimable and incomparable treasures
should be set out for the judgment of many people. "Let every man
abound in his own sense" (Rom. 14:5).
To me, I confess, it always has seemed right that the most
expensive things should be used above all for the administration of
the holy eucharist. If golden vessels, vials and mortars were used to
collect "the blood of goats or calves or the red heifer, how much
more" should gold vases, precious stones and whatever is most
valuable among created things be set out with continual reverence
and full devotion "to receive the blood of Jesus Christ" (Heb. 9:1 3f).
Certainly neither we nor our possessions are fit to perform this
function. Even if by a new creation our substance should be changed
into that of the holy cherubim and seraphim it would still offer an
insufficient and unworthy service for so great and ineffable a victim.
Nevertheless, we have such a great propitiation for our sins.
To be sure, those who criticize us argue that holy mind, pure
heart and faithful intention should suffice for this task. These are, we
agree, the things that matter most; yet we profess that we should
also serve God with the external ornaments of sacred vessels, in all
internal purity and in all external nobility, and nowhere is this to be
done as much as in the service of the holy sacrifice. For it is
incumbent upon us in every case to serve our redeemer in the most
fitting way for in all things, without exception, he has not refused to
provide for us, has united our nature with his in a single, admirable
individual, and "setting us on his right hand" he has promised "that
we will truly possess his kingdom" (Mtt. 25:33f.) He is our lord who
"lives and reigns forever" (Tobit 9:11; Rev. 1:18, etc.).
Because of our reverence for sacred relics, we also took up the
task of renovating the altar which, according to the testimony of the
ancients, was called "the Holy One" (For so King Louis, son of Philip,
who was brought up here, had heard it called by the older people of
the place from his early childhood, as he used to say.) It was
apparently the worse for wear due to age, lack of faithful care, and
frequent movement in order to decorate it, since it is arranged
differently for different feasts, the more distinguished ones receiving
more distinguished decoration.
The holy porphyry stone on top of the altar, appropriate both
qualitatively by its color and quantitatively by its size, was set in a
hollow frame of wood covered with gold. This frame was very
damaged by the passage of time. The front part of the frame was
believed to contain, through cunning workmanship, an arm of St.
James the Apostle, and a document inside said as much through an
opening of the clearest crystal. Another document within announced
that in the right-hand part was hidden an arm of the protomartyr
Stephen, while the left-hand part contained an arm of St. Vincent the
Levite and Martyr. For some time desiring to be fortified with the
protection of such great and holy relics, I had longed ardently to see
them and kiss them if I had not feared to displease God. Therefore,
taking courage from my devotion and believing in the truth of the
ancient testimony, we chose a date and selected the manner in which
the holy relics were to be examined.
The date was that of the martyrdom of our lords the blessed
martyrs, the eighth day before the ides of October. Archbishops and
bishops of various provinces were there. They had come eagerly to
bring devout prayers for this solemn celebration, as if paying their
debt to the apostolate of Gaul. The archbishops of Lyons, Reims, Tours
and Rouen were there, as were the bishops of Soissons, Beauvais,
Senlis, Meaux, Rennes, St. Malo and Vannes. There were also a large
number of abbots, monks and clerics as well as an uncountable crowd
of laity, male and female.
On this solemn day, therefore, after the office of terce had been
sung and the huge procession was assembled in view of all, then,
trusting in the truth of the matter as if we had seen it all ourselves
(though we were dependent on the mere testimony and inscription of
our forefathers), we gathered the archbishops, bishops, abbots and
other high-ranking officials to bring out the altar, explaining that we
wanted to open it and look at the treasure of holy relics contained
therein. Some of our intimates cautiously suggested that it might
have been better for our reputation and that of the church as well if
we had chosen to investigate the truth of the inscriptions in private.
Fired by my own faith, I replied that, if the inscriptions were true, I
would rather have it discovered publicly than check it secretly and
invite the skepticism of those who had not been present. Thus we
brought the aforesaid altar into our midst and summoned goldsmiths,
who carefully opened the little compartments containing the holy
arms, upon which sat the little crystals with their inscriptions. God
granting, just as we had hoped, with all looking on, we found
We also discovered the reason why the relics had been
deposited there. The Emperor Charles III, who lies gloriously interred
beneath this altar, arranged by imperial edict that they be removed
from the imperial repository and placed with him for the protection of
his soul and body. We also found there evidence, sealed with his ring,
which pleased us very much. He would not have ordered that seven
lamps in silver vessels (since gone to pieces and remade by us) should
burn incessantly, day and night, with perpetual fire before that altar
called "the Holy One" unless he placed the highest hopes for his body
and soul in the presence of these holy relics. He confirmed with his
gold seal that his property Reuil, along with its dependencies, should
be used to cover the cost of these relics, the celebration of the
anniversary of his death, and a feast for his people on this occasion.
That is also why, in nearly sixty different celebrations, six great and
worthy wax candles, the likes of which are rarely or never placed in
the church, are lit around this altar. It is also why this altar is
adorned with noble ornaments as often as is that of the blessed
We also erected the cross, admirable for its size, which is placed
between the altar and Charles' tomb. According to tradition the most
noble necklace of Queen Nanthilda, wife of King Dagobert, founder of
the church, was affixed to the middle of this cross, while another
(smaller but unequaled according to the testimony of the most
experienced artisans) was affixed to the forehead of St. Denis. The
latter was done mainly through reverence for the iron collar of St.
Denis, which, having enclosed the neck of the blessed Den is in the
prison of Glaucin, has deserved worship and veneration from us and
Moreover, in the same part of the church, the venerable abbot
of Corbie, Robert of blessed memory, professed and raised from
childhood in this church, whom we, God granting, proposed as abbot of
the monastery at Corbie, had a beautifully gilded silver panel set up in
recognition of his profession and in gratitude for the many benefits
bestowed by the church.
Also, sympathizing with the discomfort of those brethren who
constantly participated in the services and whose health was
undermined by the coldness of the marble and copper, we altered the
choir to its present form and enlarged it to accord with the increase
in size which, with God's help, our community had enjoyed.
As for the ancient pulpit, which was admirable for the delicate
and in our times irreplaceable sculpture of its ivory tablets and which
surpassed human evaluation in its representation of ancient subjects,
we had it repaired after we had recovered the panels which had been
moldering all too long in and under the repository of the money
chests. Once we had restored the copper animals on the right side to
prevent so much admirable material from perishing, we had the pulpit
set up in such a way as to read the holy gospels in a higher place. In
the early days of our tenure as abbot we had removed a certain
obstruction which divided the church with a dark wall, so that the
beauty of the church would not be obscured by such barriers.
We also restored the noble throne of the glorious King Dagobert,
on which, as tradition relates, the Frankish kings sat to receive the
homage of their nobles after they had assumed power. We did so in
recognition of its exalted function and because of the value of the
We also had the eagle in the middle of the choir regilded, for it
had been rubbed bare of gold by the frequent touch of admirers.
We also had painted, by the hands of many masters sought out
in various nations, a splendid variety of new windows below and
above, from the first in the chevet representing the tree of Jesse to
the one over the principal door of the entrance. One of these, urging
us onward from the material to the immaterial, shows the apostle
Paul turning a mill and the prophets carrying sacks to the mill. The
accompanying verse says,
- By working the mill, Paul, you take the flour from the bran.
- You make known the inner meaning of Moses' law.
- From so many grains is made the true bread without bran,
- The perpetual food of men and angels.
In the same window, where the veil is removed from Moses'
face, it says,
- What Moses veils, the doctrine of Christ unveils.
- Those who despoil Moses bare the Law.
In the same window, under the ark of the covenant,
- From the ark of the covenant is established the altar of Christ.
- There, by a greater covenant, life wishes to die.
Also in the same window, where the lion and lamb unseal the
- He who is the great God, lion and lamb, unseals the book.
- The lamb or lion becomes flesh joined to God.
In another window, where the pharaoh's daughter finds Moses
in the basket,
- Moses in the basket is that child
- Whom the church, the royal maiden, nurses with holy mind.
In the same window, where the Lord appeared to Moses in the
- Just as the bush is seen to burn yet is not consumed,
- So he who is full of the divine fire burns yet is not consumed.
Also in the same window, where the pharaoh and his horsemen
are submerged in the sea,
- What baptism does to the good,
- A like form but an unlike cause does to the pharaoh's army.
Also in the same window, where Moses raises the bronze
- Just as the bronze serpent slays all serpents,
- So Christ raised on the cross slays his enemies.
In the same window, where Moses receives the Law on the
- The law having been given to Moses,
- The grace of Christ comes to its aid.
- Grace gives life, the letter kills.
Since their marvelous workmanship and the cost of the sapphire
and painted glass makes these windows very valuable, we appointed
a master craftsman for their protection and maintenance, just as we
also appointed a skilled goldsmith for the gold and silver ornaments.
These would receive their allowances and whatever was apportioned
to them in addition, such as coins from the altar and flour from the
common storehouse of the brethren, and they were never to neglect
We also had seven candlesticks of enameled and excellently
gilded metalwork made, since the ones made by the emperor Charles
for the blessed Denis seemed to be ruined by age.
Moreover, with the devotion due to the blessed Denis, we
acquired vessels of gold and precious stones for the service of the
Lord's table, in addition to the ones already donated for this purpose
by kings of the Franks and those devoted to the church. To be specific,
we ordered a big gold chalice containing one hundred forty ounces of
gold and decorated with precious gems (hyacinths and topazes) as a
substitute for another which had been pawned during the time of our
We also offered to the blessed Denis, along with some flowers
from the empress' crown, another very precious vessel of praise,
carved in the form of a boat, which King Louis, son of Philip, had left
in pawn for nearly ten years. When it was offered for our inspection,
we had purchased it with the king's permission for sixty marks of
silver. This vessel, marvelous for both the quality and the quantity of
its precious stones, it decorated with verroterie cloisonné
work by St. Eloi and is considered by all goldsmiths to be very
Translation by David Burr [email@example.com]. See his home page. He indicated that the translations are available for educational use. He intends to expand the number of translations, so keep a note of his home page.
Paul Halsall Jan 1996 [updated 11/23/96]