The origins of Gothic Architecture are credited to Abbot Suger and the renovation of The Cathedral Basilica of Saint-Denis. The “Church” was largely defined by the Gothic Style during the Middle Ages. This style was an amalgamation of earlier styles, and prior to being recognized as “Gothic”, was not necessarily popular nor was it not part of the original program of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint-Denis. This soon changed and it became commonplace for cathedrals to utilize pointed arches, rose windows, and flying buttresses during their conception- all of which were incredibly distinctive to and indicative of the Gothic style of architecture. The renovation of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint-Denis was Suger’s physical expression of his devotion to God. Suger had adamantly felt it necessary to have an elaborately designed cathedral to demonstrate this. However, the resulting design led not only to praise but also controversy; specifically, the blatant repudiation of traditional Cistercian ideology and methodology as well as a disregard for the humble monastic lifestyle. The contentious dialogue of Saint-Denis’ motif in many ways made sense, because the fancifulness and the aristocratic imposition of Saint-Denis contradicted the very definition of monasticism and what it meant to live a monastic lifestyle. A contextual focus between Abbot Suger’s design choices and the Church’s liturgy is needed to properly analyze these contradictions and determine exactly why these choices were made and what implications they had on the church.
To avoid any confusion about the role he played, Abbot Suger was not the architect in charge of the renovation of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint-Denis, but served more as a consultant. It just so happened that, during the early 1100’s in France, holding the title of Abbot and being an adviser to the King of France gave him much more design influence and authority than the actual architect over the renovation.
It is believed that as a young boy Suger was given to the monastery by his father for education at the priory of Saint-Denis de l'Estrée. Because Suger was raised at the church for the majority of his life, he saw himself as the adopted child of the church and therefore felt an unwavering commitment to the Church itself. During his time at the abbey, an Abbot by the name of Abbot Adam would often send Suger to various missions to Rome. In March 1122, during such missions, Suger was elected Abbot of Saint-Denis. Upon election to the role of Abbot, he became responsible for giving aid and counsel to the King of France, King Louis VI (commonly referred to as King Louis Le Gros or The Fat, for his obesity). Because of the association that the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Denis had with royalty, the role of Abbot provided Suger with an incredible amount of political influence. The Cathedral Basilica itself had become decrepit, and was in need of restoration. It was here that Abbot Suger made his mark.