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Suger of Saint-Denis on a medieval window

Suger (c. 1081 – 13 January 1151) was one of the last Frankish abbot-statesmen, a historian, and the influential first patron of Gothic architecture.

Suger's family origins are unknown. Several times in his writings he suggests that his was a humble background, though this may just be a topos or convention of autobiographical writing. In 1091, at the age of ten, Suger was given as an oblate to the abbey of St. Denis, where he began his education. He trained at the priory of Saint-Denis de l'Estrée, and there first met the future king Louis VI of France. From 1104 to 1106 Suger attended another school, perhaps that attached to the abbey of Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire. In 1106 he became secretary to the abbot of Saint-Denis. In the following year he became provost of Berneval in Normandy, and in 1109 of Toury. In 1118 Louis VI sent Suger to the court of Pope Gelasius II at Maguelonne, and he lived from 1121 to 1122 at the court of Gelasius's successor, Calixtus II.

On his return from Italy Suger became abbot of St-Denis. Until 1127 he occupied himself at court mainly with the temporal affairs of the kingdom, while during the following decade he devoted himself to the reorganization and reform of St-Denis. In 1137 he accompanied the future king, Louis VII, into Aquitaine on the occasion of that prince's marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine, and during the Second Crusade served as one of the regents of the kingdom (1147 - 1149). He bitterly opposed the king's divorce, having himself advised the marriage. Although he disapproved of the Second Crusade, he himself, at the time of his death, had started preaching a new crusade.

Abbot Suger's chalice

Suger served as the friend and counsellor both of Louis VI and Louis VII. He urged the king to destroy the feudal bandits, was responsible for the royal tactics in dealing with the communal movements, and endeavoured to regularize the administration of justice. He left his abbey, which possessed considerable property, enriched and embellished by the construction of a new church built in the nascent Gothic style. Suger wrote extensively on the construction of the abbey in Liber de Rebus in Administratione sua Gestis, Libellus Alter de Consecratione Ecclesiae Sancti Dionysii, and Ordinatio. In the 1940s, the prominent art-historian Erwin Panofsky claimed that the theology of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite influenced the architectural style of the abbey of St. Denis, though later scholars have argued against such a simplistic link between philosophy and architectural form.[1]

Suger became the foremost historian of his time. He wrote a panegyric on Louis VI (Vita Ludovici regis), and collaborated in writing the perhaps more impartial history of Louis VII (Historia gloriosi regis Ludovici). In his Liber de rebus in administratione sua gestis, and its supplement Libellus de consecratione ecclesiae S. Dionysii, he treats of the improvements he had made to St Denis, describes the treasure of the church, and gives an account of the rebuilding. Suger's works served to imbue the monks of St Denis with a taste for history, and called forth a long series of quasi-official chronicles.

A chalice once owned by Suger is now in the collections of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.


  1. ^ The best summary of the 'arguments against' Panofsky's view is Panofsky, Suger and St Denis, Peter Kidson, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 50, (1987), pp. 1-17
  • "Suger", Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911
  • "Suger", The Middle Ages, A Concise Encyclopedia, H.R. Loyn Editor, 1989 (ISBN 0-500-27645-5)
  • Abbot Suger of St. Denis: Church and State in Early Twelfth-Century France. Grant, Lindy. Essex, UK: Addison Wesley Longman Limited, 1998. (ISBN 0-582-05150-9)
  • The Gothic Cathedral: Origins of Gothic Architecture & the Medieval Concept of Order (Third Edition), Van Simson, Otto. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1988. Bollingen Series XLVIII. (ISBN 0691099596)
  • The World, A History Volume One - to 1500, Filepe Fernandez Armesto. (ISBN 0-13-177764-5)

Further reading

  • Suger, Abbot of Saint Denis,. The Deeds of Louis the Fat. Translated with introduction and notes by Richard Cusimano and John Moorhead. Washington, DC : Catholic University of America Press,1992. (ISBN 0-8132-0758-4)
  • Suger, Abbot of Saint Denis,. The Deeds of Louis the Fat. Translated by Jean Dunbabin (Free, but has no annotations)

Simple English

Suger of Saint-Denis on a medieval window

Abbot Suger (c. 1081January 13, 1151) was one of the last French abbot-statesmen. He was also a historian and the first patron of Gothic architecture.


Suger was part of a poor family, and in 1091, he was brought to the abbey of Saint-Denis. There he trained and eventually became secretary to the abbot of Saint-Denis in 1104.

He took a trip to Italy, and when he came back, he became the abbot of St-Denis. Until 1127, he worked at the abbey of St-Denis and worked to reform it.

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