In my last post, I referred to the relationship between the architectural growth and economic growth. In times of strife, such as The Hundred Year’s War (la guerre de Cent Ans), the only architectural work carried out was on religious buildings. Eventually, economic growth matched the lack of urban growth and Saint-Denis entered hard times. I explored the relationship between the way a city grows and its economy. In the end I touched upon the significance of what a city grows around.
I’d like to continue in this line of thinking for this post as well. Saint-Denis, centered around the church, has its life centered around…well, the church. Church, state, economy, and urbanity are all tied together. Two aspects of these mixing of institutions struck me: Saint-Denis’s popularity with travelers and pilgrims alike and its markets and fairs.
Saint-Denis was marked as a must-see stop after the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV stopped there in 1378. The collection of art, jewels, regalia, and relics drew art lovers and pilgrims alike. Aside from “a small recompense to the guardian” of the relics, the massive influx of travelers and pilgrims surely brought economic stimulation to the various vendors and merchants in Saint-Denis. Here is a clear instance of religion (i.e. the relics), art, politics (i.e. the visit of Charles IV), and economics interplay.
The fairs at Saint-Denis offer another such example. The timing of the fairs were far from arbitrary or accidental. They coincided with the religious celebrations and the pilgrimages associated with them. For example, la foire de la Saint Mathias – the fair of Saint Mathias – commenced on the 24th of February, the celebratory day commemorating the dedication of basilique carolingienne in the presence of Charlemagne. Le Lendit – the Lendit fair – began with the public display of the relics of the Passion. Thus, while the fairs drew the merchants and the feast days the pilgrims, the timing allowed the pilgrims to stimulate the economy as well (and perhaps got some merchants into church). Additionally, the fairs were a prominent source of income for the abbot who would levy taxes and tolls at their occurrence. The economic activity and the church seemed to have a mutually beneficial relationship.
It’s easy to sit and condemn such a relationship now. We have the hindsight which points to the greed of the church that, in part, led to the Protestant Reformation. We see modern churches abusing funds, some acting more like businesses than holy establishments. But perhaps we should not be too quick to condemn such a relationship at Saint-Denis. True, Suger did work against certain taxes, but maybe at this time such a close alliance was necessary? I don’t have the knowledge or conviction to support such a relationship, but I hope we aren’t too quick to condemn from the comfort of the present.