Images of Medieval Art and Architecture

France: Benedictine Abbey Church of Saint-Denis

Twelfth-Century Windows

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North III

North II

North I

Jesse Tree
South I

South II

Griffin Window I
North VII

Click here for fragments from other windows no longer at Saint-Denis


Translated by David Burr, History Department, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, and reproduced here with his kind permission.


We also had painted, by the hands of many masters sought out in various nations, a splendid variety of new windows below and above, from the first in the chevet representing the tree of Jesse to the one over the principal door of the entrance. One of these, urging us onward from the material to the immaterial, shows the apostle Paul turning a mill and the prophets carrying sacks to the mill. The accompanying verse says,

By working the mill, Paul, you take the flour from the bran.
You make known the inner meaning of Moses' law.
From so many grains is made the true bread without bran,
The perpetual food of men and angels.

In the same window, where the veil is removed from Moses' face, it says,

What Moses veils, the doctrine of Christ unveils.
Those who despoil Moses bare the Law.

In the same window, under the ark of the covenant,

From the ark of the covenant is established the altar of Christ.
There, by a greater covenant, life wishes to die.

Also in the same window, where the lion and lamb unseal the book,

He who is the great God, lion and lamb, unseals the book.
The lamb or lion becomes flesh joined to God.

In another window, where the pharaoh's daughter finds Moses in the basket,

Moses in the basket is that child
Whom the church, the royal maiden, nurses with holy mind.

In the same window, where the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush,

Just as the bush is seen to burn yet is not consumed,
So he who is full of the divine fire burns yet is not consumed.

Also in the same window, where the pharaoh and his horsemen are submerged in the sea,

What baptism does to the good,
A like form but an unlike cause does to the pharaoh's army.

Also in the same window, where Moses raises the bronze serpent,

Just as the bronze serpent slays all serpents,
So Christ raised on the cross slays his enemies.

In the same window, where Moses receives the Law on the mountain,

The law having been given to Moses,
The grace of Christ comes to its aid.
Grace gives life, the letter kills.

Since their marvelous workmanship and the cost of the sapphire and painted glass makes these windows very valuable, we appointed a master craftsman for their protection and maintenance, just as we also appointed a skilled goldsmith for the gold and silver ornaments. These would receive their allowances and whatever was apportioned to them in addition, such as coins from the altar and flour from the common storehouse of the brethren, and they were never to neglect their duties.


Abbot Suger, On the Abbey Church of St.-Denis and its Art Treasures, ed. tr. and annotated by Erwin Panofsky, 2 ed. Gerda Panofsky-Soergel (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1946/1979)

Grodecki, Louis. Les Vitraux de Saint-Denis (Corpus vitrearum medii aevi, Série "Études", I) (Paris: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1976)

Cothren, Michael. "A Re-Evaluation of the Iconography an d Design of the Infancy Window from the Abbey of Saint-Denis," Gesta 17 (1978), 74-75.

The Royal Abbey of Saint-Denis in the Time of Abbot Suger (1122-1151) (exhibition catalogue) (New York: The Cloisters), 1981, nos. 10-22.

Radiance and Reflection: Medieval Art from the Raymond Pitcairn Collection (exhibition catalogue), ed. Jane Hayward and Walter Cahn (New York: The Metropolitan Museum, 1982)

Caviness, Madeline. "Suger's Glass at Saint-Denis: The State of Research," in Abbot Suger and Saint-Denis: A Symposium, ed. Paula Lieber Gerson (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1986), pp. 257-72.

Cothren, Michael. "The Twelfth-Century Infancy of Christ Window from Saint-Denis: A Re-Evaluation of its Design and Iconography," Art Bulletin LXVIII (1986), 398-420.

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Last updated by:JV Date: 03/98