A New Material Interpretation of Twelfth-Century Architecture
A New Material Interpretation of Twelfth-Century Architecture
Reconstructing the Abbey of Saint-Denis
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Table of Contents
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Chapter One: Materializing the Way
Chapter Two: Crafting Prayer
Chapter Three: The Everflowing Fountain
Chapter Four: Embodying Heaven on Earth
Postface: Dematerializing Architecture
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Jason Crow

A New Material Interpretation of Twelfth-Century Architecture

Reconstructing the Abbey of Saint-Denis

Today, we perceive Gothic cathedrals as light-filled forms representing the sacred. The colored light projected from brightly-colored stained glass windows onto the walls and floors of these buildings suggests the presence of divinity. Suger (1081–1151CE), the abbot of the monastery of Saint-Denis, is credited with originating Gothic architecture. However, focus on form and structure has elided attention to the material out of which medieval churches were made. When Suger describes the early church he was replacing, he says that the gold and gems it contained beamed outwardly with a gleaming light that filled the eye. When he restored his church and filled it with the shining souls of his ecclesia, he repeated God’s divine act of creation. His restored church imitated the precious stones that could be shaped and polished to reveal divine light. By crafting stone, Suger fulfilled the divine plan to make heaven on earth.
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Jason Crow

Dr. Jason Robert Crow is a senior lecturer at Monash University and a licensed architect. His research focuses on the impact of technological changes on material ontology and artisanal epistemology. Understanding these changes assists in defining the role of craft in architectural design.