Saint-Denis-en-France (Seine-St-Denis)


Building Data

  • Type: Abbey Church
  • Affiliation: Benedictine
  • Original Diocese:
  • Region: Ile-de-France
  • Department: Seine-St-Denis
  • Coords: 48.935, 2.3598
  • Surveyed: 1969, 1977, 1980-83, 1992-98, 2003, 2005, 2009, 2015, 2017


Virtual Tour

Phase 2 - 1120s [1125]- narthex (b)

Narthex foundations dug some 9 courses into the soil; the bases were 12-13 courses lower, and were raised in the C19; on average construction continued at about 8 courses per year until completion as set out in the Ark pages.
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Rationale for dating :

Dating analysed in AVISTA "Boundaries" article 23-28; for convenience dating is arranged in annual increments with an average construction rate of six to seven courses a year: analysed in "The Ark" 5:1173-; these dates have formed the foundation for the works of many carvers.

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Phase 3 - 1120s [1129]- w portal 1

West portals stage 1 jamb friezes, and decorated shafts (now in the Cluny Museum); bases intended to be above head height; the toichological evidence suggests these panels were carved over two (or three) campaigns during this and the previous years; the evidence lies in the decoration around the jamb figures and the widths of the stones and their frames; each course is illustrated separately as they seem to have been the work of different carvers, more easily distinguished in the left portal but more complex in the right.
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Rationale for dating :

Portal stages discussed in MCS #08:16-23 and #29. Phases are not the same as campaigns; a phase represents a section of work with details and capitals distinct from the adjoining, whereas a campaign is a period of construction under the control of one master separated by coursing breaks and observable changes in profiles.

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Phase 4 - 1130s [1130]- w portal 2

West portals stage 2 lateral capitals and imposts; incomplete designs in upper panels indicate that the height of the lateral portals had been reduced a few centimetres after the panels had been carved; differences in levels with central portal discussed in MCS#04 "Jerome".
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Rationale for dating :

1128/30 ex imposts discussed in #29:22-

Phase 5 - 1130s [1130]- w portal 3

west portals stage 3 central capitals and imposts and start of erection of lateral archivolts; the intended height of the central portal was considerably reduced on erection as can be seen in the curtailed canopies over the upper jamb figures that had been carved earlier, as well as the adjacent right capital.
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Phase 6 - 1130s [1131]- w portal 4

west portals stage 4 erect remaining archivolts and outer arch framing decoration; the erection was a slow process that would have been in tandem with the interior walls and the two levels of capitals that support the aisles and clerestory archwork.
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Phase 7 - 1130s [1131]- narthex aisle (a-)

lower capitals for aisle ribs, large single stones, placed at the same time as the erection of the lateral archivolts and their encasing buttresses.

Phase 8 - 1130s [1132]- narthex aisle (a)

upper aisle capitals to support doubleau and arcade arches with up to four layers of voussoirs.

Phase 9 - 1130s [1132]- narthex clerestory (c)

Capitals for central vaults placed with erection of the arcade arches and the walkway on the west wall over the central portal which would have been complete by then.

Phase 10 - 1130s [1133]- narthex aisle windows

Completion of aisle windows set well into the cells of the vaults and therefore constructed at the same time, and with the external frieze over the central portal; sill to the west window that may be one of the widest constructed to this time.
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Phase 11 - 1130s [1133]- narthex raised vault

additional capitals on east side of central piers to raise the vault spring on this side only, on the opposite side springing remains at lower level; this may have been during the pause while the masons were waiting for the mortar of the vaults to harden; during this period they may have been able to continue with the arch structure of the central vaults, but little would have happened along the encasing walls.
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Phase 12 - 1130s [1134]- narthex w walkway

Shafts and capitals on each side of the western walkway and stairs to the towers; the string courses underneath the lateral openings into the towers have different profiles and are at different levels suggesting a number of campaigns at this level.
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Phase 13 - 1130s [1139]- narthex responds (c+)

In the eastern clerestory bay capitals were added under the responds; floor of the towers laid and the west walls were raised higher than the side walls, presumably to provide lateral support for the rose window.

Phase 14 - 1130s [1135]- narthex side openings

capitals and arches over the openings on each side of the central space about the same time as the sills to the tower windows.

Phase 15 - 1130s [1135]- west exterior

west exterior window head with frieze and completion of the upper vault in north bays ready to receive the chapel; there would have been a pause while the mortar in the cells set and during this time they may have continued to work on the towers, the vaults underneath having properly set by this time.
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Phase 18 - 1130s [1138]- narthex upper chapel (aw)

Chapel openings with capitals and arches, arches for the vaults and wall around rose half way up.

Rationale for dating :

Complete chapel vaults; 1140 dedication of the upper chapel.

Phase 19 - 1130s [1139]- west towers (w)

chapel vaults, plastered and painted ready for the consecration; maybe a little later the tower vaults and window heads, and completion of western rose.

Phase 20 - 1140s [1140]- choir (b)

choir foundations and bases, possibly begun earlier, with evidence for at least two, if not three, crews in the different layouts for the buttresses in the lowest courses.

Rationale for dating :

Analysed in "The Ark" 5:1275; the dating of the choir is not based on the oft-repeated assumption that Suger completed this project to the main roof, an assumption that ignores Suger's actual words and had been questioned by Crosby himself, but is based on a similar construction rate to the narthex; the evidence is set out in my article in Avista, 1998.

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Phase 21 - 1140s [1140]- choir (u)

Choir crypt walls with their large windows and piers, much masonry and many capitals restored.

Rationale for dating :

Analysed in "The Ark" 5:1241 and MCS #8:11; capitals carved probably early in 1141 MCS #8:11.

Phase 22 - 1140s [1141]- choir walls (a)

Ambulatory walls seem to have been designed for a single passage and deep chapels supporting a groin vault; this phase incuded the window sills and wall, the capitals alongside the windows and the arches over them.

Rationale for dating :

Analysed in "The Ark" 5:1254 and especially James "Gesta" 1993.

Phase 23 - 1140s [1142]- double ambulatory

choir redesigned for a double ambulatory, rib shafts and higher capitals for the doubleau arches, marked '5' on the section where you can see that wokr would have stopped over the window arches while the work had to pause to give time for the mortar to settle.
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Rationale for dating :

Analysed in "The Ark" 5:1254 and Gesta 1993.

Phase 24 - 1140s [1142]- choir drums (a)

Choir intermediate piers; capitals carved by a separate crew to the previous.

Rationale for dating :

Analysed in "The Ark" 5:1275

Phase 25 - 1140s [1143]- choir windows

Chapel window arches and external capitals.

Rationale for dating :

Analysed in "The Ark" 5:1281

Phase 26 - 1140s [1144]- choir (rc)

Choir cornice with the completion of the aisle vaults; there is no evidence that work continued above this level; as in the narthex the construciton rate was about 8 courses each year.

Phase 27 - 1140s [1145]- n portal 1

North portal stage I, left incomplete at the start of the crusade and the call for funds: see Avista, 2014.

Rationale for dating :

Analysed in "The Ark" 5:1290

Phase 29 - 1160s [1166]- n portal 2

North portal stage 2

Rationale for dating :

Formal designs in capitals show has to be before 1170, though tympanum could have been later.