Images of Medieval Art and Architecture

The Treasure of Saint Denis

Altar Frontal


Golden Altar Frontal as depicted in

"The Mass of Saint Giles"

a painting from the 15th century.


Description of Abbot Suger's repair of the Altar Frontal

XXXI. Concerning the Golden Altar Frontal in the Upper Choir

Into this panel, which stands before his most sacred body, we estimate that we have put around forty-two marks of gold, a rich abundance of precious gems - hyacinths, rubies, sapphires, emeralds and topazes - and a variety of pearls, more than we ever hoped to find. You would see kings, princes and many outstanding men, imitating us, remove the rings from their fingers and order that the gold, gems and precious pearls of the rings be set in the panel. In the same way archbishops and bishops, depositing the rings of their investiture there for safekeeping, devoutly offered them up to God and his saints. Such a large crowd of gem-dealers flowed in upon us from various kingdoms and nations that we sought to buy no more than they hastened to sell, money being provided by all. The verses on this panel are as follows:

Great Denis, open the doors of Paradise,
And protect Suger through your holy defenses.
May you, who have built a new chamber for yourself through us,
Cause us to be received in the chamber of heaven
And to be satiated at the heavenly table
Instead of the present one.
That which is signified pleases more than that which signifies.

Because it was proper for us to place the most sacred bodies of our lords in the upper vault as nobly as possible, and one of the side- panels of their most holy sarcophagus had been torn off on some unknown occasion, we put aside fifteen marks of gold and took pains to have the rear side and the whole outside container, above and below, gilded with about forty ounces. Moreover, we had the receptacles which contain the holy bodies covered with copper-gilt panels and polished stone attached over the stone vaults, with continuous gates which would keep unruly crowds at a distance yet allow distinguished persons to view these receptacles with great devotion and a flood of tears. Here are the verses on these sacred tombs:

Where the heavenly host stands guard,
The people beseech and bemoan the ashes of the saints,
While the clergy sing in ten-voiced harmony.
The prayers of the pious are directed to their spirits
And if they are acceptable to them their sins are forgiven.
The bodies of the saints are entombed here in peace. May they carry off after them us who beseech them with many prayers.
This place is an admirable asylum for those who come.
Here is safe flight for the accused,
The avenger is subjected to him.

Translated by Dr. David Burr of the History Department of Virginia Tech, and reporduced here with his kind permission.




Conway, (1915), p. 105-6,108-10,134-7,141. Click here for text.

Montesquion-Fezensac, I and II, no. 187-8, III pp. 96-8, pl. 87.

Return to






Created by J Vadnal, July, 1998