Saint-Denis-en-France
(Seine-St-Denis, France)
Saint-Denis
Surveyed: 1969, 1977, 1980-83, 1992-98, 2003, 2005, 2009, 2015, 2017
This is an experimental section where John James is attempting to identify the carvers though the use of common templates and/or a recognisable manners of carving. Such a large-scale analysis of all the capitals in these buildings has not been attempted before. As an ongoing enterprise that is still in its infancy, we seek your input. John believes this has the potential to increase our understanding of how they worked and to provide a more solid basis for dating than we have had.
Merovingian crypt under choir and outline remains of previous nave
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
Lower capitals for aisle ribs, large single stones, placed at the same time as the erection of the lateral archivolts and their encasing buttresses.
Upper aisle capitals to support doubleau and arcade arches with up to four layers of voussoirs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Capitals and arches over the openings on each side of the central space about the same time as the sills to the tower windows.
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.
Chapel floor level established with walls and start of rose window over western frieze.
Springing for chapel ribs with impost carried around piers.
Chapel openings with capitals and arches, arches for the vaults and wall around rose half way up.
Chapel vaults, plastered and painted ready for the consecration; maybe a little later the tower vaults and window heads, and completion of western rose.
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.
Choir crypt walls with their large windows and piers, much masonry and many capitals restored.
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.
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.
Choir intermediate piers; capitals carved by a separate crew to the previous.
Chapel window arches and external capitals.
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.
North portal stage I, left incomplete at the start of the crusade and the call for funds: see Avista, 2014.
North portal stage 2
Replace choir piers with drums, some building on the transepts walls
Nave and transept dado, aisle walls and vaults
South transept door


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