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L'abbé Suger de Saint-Denis. Mémoire et perpétuations des œuvres humaines

Cahiers de civilisation médiévale
PERSEE Program
Publication Date
DOI: 10.3406/ccmed.2001.2802
  • History
  • Philosophy


Suger was a man of action, a man committed to his faith in all its forms, both divine and human. Though his only title was that of abbot, he took on other roles in his life : administrator, architect, ambassador, statesman, and historian. Always looking towards to future, he was almost obsessive in setting himself tasks : managing the abbey's estate, cultivating its lands and finding ways to improve its revenues. He wrote constantly, when not planning the innovative construction of the basilica of Saint-Denis. This Building is itself a reflection of his philosophy and of his long-term goals : to reunite the three royal dynasties and to make the Basilica their final resting place and the depository of the royal insignia. At the same time, the Basilica would become the church which protected the king and which represented the Holy See in France. Suger reformed his abbey, he enriched the liturgy, always with the goal of perpetuating the memory and enhancing the power of prayer, and he made sure that all these changes were recorded in charters and confirmed by both the king and the Pope. All his life, he sought to make the king vassal of Saint-Denis, to bring the regnum under the authority of the Ecclesia. But at the same time, Suger enhanced the power of the king, by placing the throne at the summit of the feudal pyramid. All his written works look towards the future, though never neglecting the past, in a long arduous combat against that worst of enemies, oblivion. His historical works were intended to offer to future generations a model of the king, while his writings on his own achievements concentrated on the abbot exercising his office, not that on the individual who holds the office. His objective was quintessentially moral : avoid evil by imitating exemplary lives. Ever seeking the ideal of beauty and harmony in this world, the abbot of Saint-Denis attempted to fulfil his eschatological vision of the synthesis of the real and the unreal, of the human and the divine, the fusion of heaven and earth in a single « Republic ».

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