Basilica of Saint-Denis

Basilica of Saint-Denis

Date 1140-44

Movement Early Gothic

Located at Saint-Denis, France


This structure was commissioned by Abbot Suger with aid from King Louis VI. Though Romanesque churches also employed apsidioles, here, they merge together to form a continuous space, essentially another ambulatory altogether. The ribbed groin vault has matured so that it may now cover any trapezoidal shape, allowing the apse here to be composed of wedge-like spaces.


Saint-Denis’ interior takes upon a lightness not seen in Romanesque structures—columns have been slenderized as a result of the the ribbed groin vault’s efficiency, and the enlarging of windows that was made possible by strengthening the building’s buttresses, most of which were hidden from the interior. The additional light, given an especially heavenly quality from the stained-glass windows, was meant to create a surreal, unearthly atmosphere. Responds are employed throughout; while they are not structurally necessary, they do help to enforce the aesthetic continuity of the church.


Elements from Saint-Étienne are employed on the façade—note how it has been divided into three main vertical parts as a result of the four massive, jutting buttresses. The portals and their elements are larger and more richly carved than their Romanesque predecessors; unfortunately, much of the sculptural decoration has been destroyed throughout the centuries.