June 11: the invention of Gothic

Clio’s Calendar: Daily Musings on Architectural History

On this day in 1144 the additions to the Carolingian basilica of St. Denis were dedicated.

It’s not often that major historical movements in architecture have such a specific start date, but this church north of Paris is as close to the crack of a starting pistol as anything.  That is due not just to the church–or, specifically, the east end/chevet of the church–but rather due to the presence of a singular patron who reveals that Gothic–while certainly expressed in amazing structural acrobatics–is not first and foremost about structure–or even architecture–itself.

The church was and is dedicated to Saint-Denis (d. ca. 250), the first bishop of Paris and one of the best martyrs ever.  Denis was beheaded by Romans (of course) in the midst of a sermon.  But, like any good professor, a little physical discomfort would not keep him from concluding his thesis.  He picked up his head, carried it…

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