Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis. Selected Works of Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis. Translated with Introduction and Notes by Richard Cusimano and Eric Whitmore. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2018. pp. 293. $65 hb. ISBN 9780813229973. Reviewed by Pablo M. Iturrieta.
This book, translated and edited with a very helpful introduction on the life and work of Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis and extensive notes throughout the book, tries to make up for the lack of respect and attention that such a figure deserves. In fact, Abbot Suger was one of the most important French figures of the first half of the twelfth century. He was a historian, advisor of kings, their representative in many occasions, and an innovative architect whose legacy changed the European landscape: The Gothic style. It was his renovations of the Parisian Church of Saint-Denis, one of the most beautiful churches in Europe, that had a tremendous influence in the following centuries. He left aside the bulky and dark Romanesque style, and instead designed a church with a light-filled and spacious interior, soaring into the sky “with elevated walls and rows of multistoried stained glass windows” (ix).
The present volume contains a wealth of information about the events of his era, as well as Suger’s descriptions of the church’s rebuilding and consecration (The Book on the Consecration of the Church of Saint-Denis), his unfinished biography of Louis VII (The Illustrious King Louis [VII], Son of Louis [VI]) which includes the continuations that completed the biography, and the life of Suger himself, began at the request of his fellow monks to prevent the memory of his accomplishment from being lost to posterity, and completed after his death (The Book of Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis: His Accomplishments during His Administration). Finally, the volume includes The Life of Suger, and The Circular Letter of the Monastery of Saint-Denis Concerning the Death of Abbot Suger, both written by William, a monk of Saint-Denis. The works are presented in chronological order of composition. The translators have also provided two helpful glossaries, containing the meanings of medieval terminology and definitions of Latin words that Suger commonly used in his writings.
The translation of these works make Abbot Suger’s work accessible to students not yet familiar with his convoluted Latin syntax, and it will also certainly provide students of political, architecture, art and medieval history an excellent access to the writings of this crucial figure.