Gothic Beginning.

Eight hundred and fifty years ago, a man had an idea. He wasn’t just any man, and it wasn’t just
any idea. In the damp, turnip-infested world of the 1200’s in France, Abbot Suger had the idea
that people would feel closer to God if they could see pretty things. This seems like a small step
for those of us who have the privilege of seeing beauty at all turns, but it wasn’t always the case.

Now, the abbot was a man pretty much removed from the hardships of life at the time. In an era
without refrigeration, he had fish shipped to him from the Seine, and from the sea, during lent.
Granted, it was salted, but at least it was protein. His poorer parishoners had no way of obtaining
fish, save what they got from the rivers around their farms.

Suger didn’t live his parishoners’ poverty, but he did want them to see the glory of God. He saw
the damp, dank meeting place on Sunday, the local cathedral, St. Denis. The place where good
Christians came to worship on Sundays. He saw that the people wanted to see each other; he didn’t see
them interested in God.

So Abbot Suger looked in the history books. He saw the calculations of some guy called Dionysus
the Areopagite. A 1:2 or 1:3 ratio of width to height seemed to be the most aesthetically pleasing.

So Suger drafted plans of a cathedral where the 1: 2 and 1: 3 arches reached to God. And he saw
that there was enough white space in between the stone to make pictures. Pictures of glass.

The pictures in the choir at St. Denis were among the first examples of stained glass to inform
the unwashed and uneducated multitudes of the stories of the bible. Those turnip-eating peasants
couldn’t read, but they could look.

They looked their fill.

Gothic architecture was born.

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