The town of Saint Denis and the afterlife

It can be argued that a civilization’s pattern of growth has changed from the beginnings of our studies with the prehistoric people of Lascaux to the Middle Age Christians in Saint Denis. For one, the introduction of Christianity with its new architectural movement as seen in the construction of churches and basilicas changes the function of religion to something more than just the spiritual representation of the afterlife (not that it isn’t or shouldn’t be its primary purpose). However, we see that while the afterlife and a community are still important to the people of the Middle Ages in their Christian lives just as it was for their ancestors, it is clear that a sacrophigus was no longer equivalent in meaning and representation as the burial mounds at Morbihan, for example. It can be argued that through evidence found in excavations that luxury and the symbol of wealth, power, and status in this life become another important element religion whereas in the past, people were more concerned with what would be acquired in the afterlife (peace, reuniting with ancestors, etc) or even just what existed there.

Monk cloisters were decorated with arches containing pearls and diamonds which is ironic to think about the fact that these religious figures represented piety and the vows of poverty they had to take in order to live in places this luxurious and distant from the original message of  Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament but that is an entirely different religious discussion that I could take too much time to discuss. Nevertheless, whether Christianity may reflect a loss of its root in meaning and spirituality, it is important to recognize that the Church was the foundation for many more important developments that lent themselves as resources for the development of cities we see in our present day. We can see such developments in the creation of an aqueduct for the village of Saint Denis, which required about 10,000 stone slabs. While in the past, people sought to establish themselves and their villages near the resources they would need such as water, it is a sign that communities such as Saint Denis needed to “bring back” the resources instead of living by them, because they placed a greater importance on living near the basilica.

Again, we see a remarkable feat in the transporting of giant rocks for the purpose of building a civilization. Yet, in this case we see a secular purpose being served where the intent and inevitably the level of remarkableness of the feat is affected. It is easy for me to admire a civilization in the past that mysteriously transported things that they should have otherwise never been able to accomplish with the knowledge we have of their resources with the purpose of exploring a spiritual meaning in their construction of symbolic structures. In Middle Age Christianity, however, we begin to see that religion and the spiritual becomes perhaps secondary to a desire to explore a more comfortable life that can be achieved now instead of waiting for it to come at death.

We also see a contrast between the type of building material used between the basilica and the secular housing found and developed near the basilica of Saint Denis, placing the focus on what was the most important aspect of life in the Christian Middle Ages, the Church (both the building and the institution). Though it is true that there is evidence of religion guiding the intent of their ancestors as they  often built structures to send their loved ones into an afterlife they were very curious about themselves, “more modern” Christians saw religion not only as a community builder and source of reflection inspiration, but also as a means to a more secure, a more developed, and a more comfortable life on earth offered through religious power and its influence on the living.




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