Habemus Papam, Habemus Piazza


The piazza of St. Peter’s Basilica, 13 March 2013

The first basilica constructed to house Christian worship on the site where St. Peter was buried fulfilled the liturgical needs of the early (make that very early: fourth-century-early) Church precisely.  With the patronage of the first professing Christian emperor behind it, the church was built solidly and was intended to last the centuries.

With proper maintenance, it would still be standing there in its brick-walled, timber-roofed, mixed-up spolia glory.  But Constantine’s big basilica ran afoul of the new developments in aesthetic theory and specifically the revived sense of beauty that was current in the early sixteenth century.  Humanism happened, and what we now call the Renaissance was well underway.  Pope Julius II (1503-13), one of the tastiest popes in history, ordered the destruction of the old barn of a church to make way for something beautiful to modern eyes, something that would be a more appropriate formal setting for the rituals of the Church, given the revived interest in the glorious of ancient Rome and its prominence in Church history.

About a century and a half (and almost two dozen popes, not to mention a gaggle of architects, sculptors and other artists) later, the church stood complete, pretty much in today’s final form: Michelangelo’s great dome rose over the mass fronted by Maderno’s great facade that features the balcony of appearances, while Bernini’s lengthy colonnades swept forward to define the piazza. It is, truly, a glorious setting: one that at once celebrates the power of the Roman Catholic Church and provides a proper setting for its head.

It was to this stage that so many of us turned on 13 March 2013, especially as news of the white smoke rising from the Sistine Chapel spread through the airwaves and over the internets.  Fortunate souls in Rome swarmed the streets in a migration of pilgrims to the piazza, filling it by the tens of thousands.  Around the world the rest of us looked on from a distance, electronically-enabled to be brought visually into the piazza through the medium of whatever screen was most easily accessible.

Almost four centuries ago, the piazza’s architect, Bernini, famously described his design as the “motherly arms of the Church;” the colonnades were designed to “reach out with open arms to embrace Catholics to reaffirm their belief, heretics to reunite them with the Church, and agnostics to enlighten them with the true faith.”  Surely he never dreamt that his concetto would work on such a scale, the piazza embracing not only those who could be physically in the place, but also onlookers from thousands of miles away.

on the balcony

Francis appears

On this Wednesday, the attention of everyone in the piazza–both really, and virtually, there–centered on the new head of the Church.  By all accounts, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, now Pope Francis, is a simple and humble man, as indicated by his choice of name that references the willfully impoverished saint of Assisi.  His walk supports the talk: in his home country he visited slums, rode the bus, prepared his own meals.  On the evening of his election, the image of his silhouetted form, simple white against the dark drapes of the balcony, reinforced his apparent nature, which is emphasized by the difference between it and his environment.  In this way, the architectural setting of the Vatican works in a very different manner than its original patrons intended.  While so many popes luxuriated in the richness of their position (Leo X, pope from 1513-21, infamously proclaimed “Since God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it,” and enthusiastically set about emptying Vatican coffers as only a Medici could do), their material culture works both for and against their church and its head.  On the one hand, the spectacular glory of the place and its piazza is a fitting monument to such a powerful denomination, some 1.2 billion members strong and two millennia old.  However, it is also a reminder of grotesque excesses, the kind that got Martin Luther and his lot all in a lather.


The simple casket of John Paul II, being blessed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, at the pope’s funeral.  Ratzinger was elected pope eleven days later.

But that excess can now be turned to new expressive purpose.  The elegance and expense is also a foil for simplicity and prudence, reinforcing the reforms of recent popes.  The statement of poverty made by the casket that held the body of Pope John Paul II–a simple wooden vessel for the one of clay within–, was made all the more powerful by its placement within the monument of Renaissance and Baroque artistry.  Likewise, St. Peter’s scale and majesty made the lone figure of the new pope all the more small and humble, communicating that this leader of millions is, in many ways, very much alone.

It is a simple truth of architectural history that some of its great monuments, from palaces to churches and mausoleums to capitols, were built by people who were not, on the whole, praiseworthy–some of them could barely be described as occasionally honorable.  That is what separates the past (the fact that certain ignoble people built noble things) from history (what we do with those things they left behind).  Goodness or badness of person is not necessarily reflected in their buildings: we are blessed by the wondrous artistic fruits of great as well as corrupt people.  What we choose to do with and to them, and how we maintain and preserve, utilize and adapt, or neglect and destroy, is what articulates our contemporary values.  Likewise, the way that Francis utilizes the incomparable architectural heritage and the traditions of patronage to which he is now heir will say a lot about him.

Initial–at this point, indeed, very initial–speculation about the pontificate of Pope Francis suggests that he will not produce very much good architecture, but he may indeed produce very much good.

the funeral of John Paul II

The funeral of John Paul II, 08 April 2005

let us now praise small historic sites: Bishop Hill, Illinois

outbuildings and garden (near West Main Street)

Some travel destinations are really messed up by tourism.  Recently a funeral was held for Venice, and not due to the city’s imminent drowning (click here for the NYTimes article).  Instead, the cause of the city’s demise was identified as death by tourism.  The native population of Venice has dwindled markedly in recent decades while tourists—to whom the content of the city’s monuments, shops and cultural events are more and more directed—are more and more overrunning the city.  Venice has not achieved that delicate balance between attractions for out-of-towners and sustenance for natives, which need to be carefully blended, rather than segregated, to ensure the health of a place.


the Colony Church (1848)

Located far from established commercial and tourist magnets, Bishop Hill, Illinois has been isolated since its founding in the 1840s.  That seclusion was first the product of its founders’ desire to establish a religious/agricultural utopia; it was later “enhanced” by being bypassed by such developments as rail and highways that were built in other regions of the Prairie State.  Although the lack of such developments have meant certain and real challenges for the residents of the town, it also has contributed to the preservation of the town’s physical character, as well as its continued tradition of the cultural identity as a place set apart.  For these reasons, Bishop Hill is a wonderful place to travel.


the Colony Church

Bishop Hill was founded by a charismatic, religious zealot named Erik Jansson who emigrated in 1846 after rejecting Sweden’s state-run Lutheranism.  In Illinois, the Janssonites dug in (literally) for their first brutal winter; soon thereafter they began to flourish.  Within three years they abandoned dugout shelters for frame houses, and soon built flour and saw mills and a fine large church; a school, hotel and other public buildings would follow within a decade, all set among hundreds of acres of farmland that revealed the success of their utopian experiment.  Participating in a highly structured communal organization that included a carefully orchestrated division of labor, the colonists developed significant craft skills and an economy of export goods. In addition, through its early years, the village established itself as ground zero for Swedish immigration to Illinois, leading the many waves of Scandinavian immigrants throughout the Midwest.


the Colony Church

All was well until the shockingly violent death of Jansson, who was shot dead by his cousin’s husband during the recess from a criminal trial at which the husband was the defendant.  So deep was the colony’s belief in Jansson’s spiritual leadership that he laid in state for three days, but unlike their Savior, this Prophet did not rise again.  This drama unfolded in 1850, less than four years after the colony’s founding.  In Jansson’s place a group of trustees was appointed to run the thriving colony until it fell victim to the Panic of 1857 (like so much of the rest of the country).  Financial crisis and apparent mishandling of the colony’s finances lead to its dissolution in 1861, some fifteen years after the first colonists broke ground.


the Colony Church

From its peak of over 1,000 (at a time that Chicago’s population numbered just under 30,000), Bishop Hill has dwindled to fewer than 150 residents.  The silver lining behind any town’s lack of growth and development (especially through the 1950s and ‘60s) has meant the survival of dozens of its original buildings.  Many, like the Colony Church, are well-preserved and maintain their original furniture, lighting fixtures, paint finishes and other fittings.


the Colony Church


the Steeple Building (1854)

Not all of Bishop Hill’s buildings have been preserved quite so well as the church due to the financial challenges that any historic community faces—especially small ones far away from other tourist centers.  But in an odd way, that lack of preservation is a kind of asset.  Old buildings, scrubbed within an inch of their lives to remove all time-worn patina become curious, unnatural things that seem to exist outside of the actual passing of time.  A little dirt, a little wear, is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when it gives evidence to the continued use of buildings.


the Steeple Building

Then again, severe lack of maintenance is not just visually troublesome but can also be a real threat to a building’s longevity.  Some of the buildings in Bishop Hill are in desperate need of stabilization—the Steeple Building is prominent among them.  The buildings of Bishop Hill that are in need of attention are not languishing due to neglect.  Residents are fiercely devoted to their little town, and most of the building stock shows that serious, ongoing attention has been paid to caring for the historic buildings, many of which are preserved and interpreted according to their specific original functions.  Like the church, much of the Colony Hotel is arranged to reveal the standards of comfort and charm to which visitors to the colony would be treated during their visit in the mid-nineteenth century.

In addition to these buildings which provide a kind of living, walk-through museum environment, the Colony Church and the Steeple Building  house museum exhibits dedicated to the craft of the Swedish immigrants who made the original colony such a success.  Artifacts of all sorts—bricks signed by the people who molded them, furniture and in situ doors that reveal the Swedish skill of trompe-l’œil work, ceramics and quilts—are nicely arranged and explained in thematic exhibits.  When I was there in October the overcast sky and nineteenth-century window glass worked together to ensure a beautifully-lit display of tools and crafts.






spinning wheel



bricks (made at the Colony and often signed by their makers)




window, drapes, pitcher, linen: Vermeer would have liked Bishop Hill

While the buildings and artifacts provide an obvious draw for people interested Swedish culture and/or Illinois history (perhaps especially—although I don’t think exclusively—Illinoisans), one of the reasons that Bishop Hill is such an interesting site is the strong communal or civic quality that survives here.  Partly this is owed to the sum of the parts: Bishop Hill is not a place to go see individual masterpieces, or isolated, prestigious civic structures.  From the craft displays to the dozens of outbuildings (both agricultural and industrial) that survive, Bishop Hill allows a more complete view of the full nineteenth-century landscape than is available in most similar historic sites.  Jansson may have been the guiding force behind the Colony, but its relics are memorials to the hundreds of colonists who called the village home.



Bishop Hill preserves a fine collection of nineteenth-century building stock that reveals a really interesting blend of their builders’ immigrant details (brick and wood work, especially) met with the classicizing influence of the Midwest at mid-century (Doric pilasters and rendering on the Steeple Building).  Many of the “background buildings,” especially houses, still serve their original functions.  Ongoing restoration efforts provide their own opportunity for seeing the process of preservation in buildings like the barns to the left.




carpenters' building

Other structures have been turned to good adaptive reuse—mostly into shops, restaurants and galleries.  Their continued use ensures their maintenance.  Many of the nineteenth-century service buildings have been well adapted to new uses, like the Carpenters’ Building.  Its lower level is a shop with space for artisans to work and sell their fiber and ceramic wares; the upper level has been stripped of its nineteenth-century fabric and serves as a clean contemporary gallery. A different character is achieved at the Poppy Barn, with a dim and rough-hewn interior stuffed with products made by a family of basket weavers and iron workers.


Poppy Barn (now a shop)


the dairy

Other buildings, like the brick Dairy, have been stabilized, but await new tenants and new uses to breathe life into them.

The several galleries and shops that feature the work of local artists support the town’s past identity and future potential as a center of craft production in the region (the town’s role as host for an Annual Midwest Folk Festival should help here too).  Likewise, Bishop Hill also maintains traditions of immigrant cooking, from specific Swedish recipes (frikadeller, the eponymous meatball, no shortage of lingonberry-themed pastries) to general approach of using fresh and local ingredients in hearty midwestern fare.  Food traditions tend to be the last practice that immigrants give up when assimilating, and the world is a better place for the preservation of Swedish dishes in Bishop Hill.


meatballs, sausage, beets, cabbage, brown bread and noodles (P.L. Johnson's)


frikadeller, dill sauce and sour cream, cucumbers and more beets (the Red Oak)

(However, vegans and low-carb fanatics be warned: Bishop Hill may be your Strait of Messina, with only the stray slice of cucumber or beet saving you from a culinary Scylla and Charybdis.)

It would not be difficult for Bishop Hill to become a caricature of itself: frozen meatballs, Swedish chef puppets.  Thankfully, a visit to Bishop Hill is not like passing through a time warp or into a Disneyfied Scandi-land.  Costumed interpreters may show you how to bake rye bread or put a faux finish on a piece of wood, but there is no artifice among the people beyond the bonnets and breeches.  This is one of the great strengths of Bishop Hill: the locals are crazy about the village, its heritage, their current lives there, and their optimism for its future health.  During my recent weekend in Bishop Hill I heard time and again from residents that they would never live anywhere else.  This dedication is clear in the care for the buildings and landscape, the volunteerism at the very nice small museums sprinkled throughout the historic structures, the character of locally-sourced art and craft in the galleries, and certainly the quality of the dining (two days of Bishop Hill cooking forced me take back every mean thing I have ever said about Scandinavian cuisine and even made me believe there might indeed be a place in the world for fruit pies).  Bishop Hill is not a place where history is protected behind a Plexiglas wall or caricatured as oldey-timey nostalgia.  It’s a place of living tradition, beautiful craft, quiet landscapes and pastries that will bring you to your knees.  The story of Eric Jansson and his colonists may have run its course, but the interdependent character of those utopian Swedes (and really, is there any other kind?) is alive and well in Bishop Hill.  This legacy ornaments a really lovely little village.


quad-berry pie at the Red Oak

For current information on visiting Bishop Hill, click here.

For the Annual Midwest Folk Festival, held in Bishop Hill, click here

my favorite martyr

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a favorite shrine (Sta. Cecelia, Rome)

Even if the veneration of Christian martyrs and their relics is not a part of their daily routines, art and architecture people still ought to pause from time to time and give thanks for them. Devotion to, and belief in, the intercessory powers of the saints motivated the creation of many of the works that constitute some of the greatest achievements in western art and architectural history. And, admit it: these figures add some great legendary drama, spice and fire–not to mention blood, sweat and tears–to the historical record. In honor of those saints who have not only paid the price for their faith, but whose life and death have also been the center of spectacular historical tradition that ultimately inspired fabulous art, I offer here my humble gratitude in the form of a guide to My Favorite Martyrs. Rankings have been determined by quantifying the following criteria: (1) awesomeness during life; (2) awesomeness in the act of dying; (3) awesome efficacy of body parts and related left-over memorabilia, a.k.a. relics; and (4) influence on awesome art and architecture.  With estimates of some 10,000 saints to consider, it’s a large field.  Immediately below are a number to whom we give a (dismembered) thumbs-up, followed by the final, best and favorite saints who stand (severed) heads and (wheel-broken) shoulders above the crowd.

Part I: Runners-Up

st james moor

St. James, in his ill-advised second career

St. James the Great

One of the twelve apostles, James had made his way far west to Iberia and was preaching there in the year 40 when a vision of the Virgin Mary ordered him back to Judea, where he went, and soon thereafter was beheaded—perhaps by Herod Agrippa himself.  His body was returned to Iberia miraculously, in a boat with neither rudder nor sails, then buried at the site where now stands the great church of Santiago de Compostela, the goal of 100,000s of pilgrims annually.  That’s all great, but his appearance at the ninth-century Battle of Clavijo to fight on the side of the Christians against the Muslims was not a good second-act career move; the People Of The Book should be able to get along better than that.  We’ll honor St. James the Great, but in that battlefield appearance, St. James the Moor-slayer disqualified himself from being a favorite.

sernin bull

St. Sernin and the bull

St. Sernin

In the third century, Sernin was sent by the pope himself to Christianize Gaul.  When he refused to worship at a pagan altar he was condemned–and not just to your average stoning, crucifixion or beheading.  No; Sernin was tied by his feet to a bull that dragged him all over town.  That’s an unusual* way to die, but Sernin’s architectural legacy is not nearly as creative; his basilica in Toulouse, France is basically another version of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.  The lack of originality by his later builders puts him out of the running.  (*The bull, on the other hand, gets props for his progeny’s recreation of this particular technique applied to one of Sernin’s followers at Pamplona, now the site of annual festivities featuring the descendants of Sernin’s bull.)

vitus window

one of Mucha's very pretty windows

St. Vitus

An early bloomer, Vitus developed some profound skills early on, attracting the attention of some very prestigious individuals within the Roman Empire.  He was brought to Rome to drive out a demon from the emperor Diocletian’s son.  Nothing like driving out a demon from the emperor’s son to get you noticed!  Diocletian showed a peculiar kind of gratitude for the healing of his son by ordering that Vitus be tortured to the point of death, at which point an angel took him back home to Sicily where he died and was buried.  In the eighth and ninth centuries his relics were moved around Germany and Bohemia; the bones of one hand finally made their way as the sacred relic of the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague.  This cathedral features an unusually broad range of art from the brilliant medieval mosaics (the Golden Gate) to the Art Nouveau stained glass windows by Alphonse Mucha–but poor preteen Vitus fails to be prominently featured in either.


The Crucifixion of St. Peter (Caravaggio, 1600)

St. Peter

Leader of the early Christian church, rock upon which the church would be built, keeper of the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven given to him by Christ, and source to which the popes trace their power, St. Peter bears a killer resume in the world of the saints.  Crucified upside-down in the year 64, he and his story have inspired great achievements from a significant list of patrons and artists, among them: Constantine, Bramante, Julius II, Bernini and Caravaggio.  Sad thing for Peter is that his own legend is really kind of boring next to the art created to celebrate him.  Peter suffers the fate of high school valedictorians who end up at really great colleges that don’t practice grade inflation.


golden girl


Foy (“faith”), a very young girl in Aquitaine, France, lived and died in the late third century.  She was burned to death for refusing to renounce her faith.  Her relics, which were moved to the town of Conques, France in 866, were housed in a reliquary that takes the unusual form of Foy herself, studded with gemstones presented by pilgrims, and around which a fine Romanesque church was built on one of the pilgrimage roads to Santiago de Compostela (albeit with similarities to St. Sernin and Santiago da Compostela, but to my eye, it’s the best of the bunch). Foy’s status is propelled by the power of her relics, which have been cause of miraculous events, from your garden-variety supernatural healing to some pretty clever practical jokes. For instance: a cad whose dying wife promised a valuable ring to Foy presented it to his new wife, who then suffered from painful swelling of her ring finger. Upon visiting Foy’s relics in Conques and praying for healing, the new wife was caused to blow a holy sneeze that sent the ring flying off her finger and, assumedly, into the treasury of the church. That is clever work by a young girl—and a dead one at that.

Part II: The Final Four

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Ascent of St. Andrew, S. Andrea al Quirinale, Rome

No. 4: St. Andrew (1st c.)

It must be daunting to be related to someone like Peter, to whom most of the city of Rome is dedicated.  Not one to suffer from ifonlyyoucouldbemorelikeyourbrotheritis, Andrew bests his sibling by sheer spread of his reliquary influence and the graphic quality of his choice of crucifixion tool: the crux decussata. Andrew met his end on this X-shaped cross in Patras, Greece; most of his remains (including his small finger, partial cranium and parts of his cross) were returned there in the 1960s where they rest in a special shrine; other parts can be found in Italy, Scotland, and Poland, making one wonder if he got around more in life or in death. Andrew’s legend received one of the great artistic treatments ever in a Baroque church by Bernini, which fuses painting, sculpture and architecture in such a way as to tell the story of Andrew’s martyrdom, ascension and heavenly reward in one dramatic three-dimensional tableau of gilded plaster and pink marble. For most that would be enough, but over-achieving Andrew has been adopted in the heraldry of a whole country. The town of St. Andrews, Scotland developed on the site where some of his remains were brought supernaturally after ca. 950. Around that time, Andrew was adopted as the patron saint of the country and his cross adopted to their national flag, one of the oldest continuously used flags in the world.  Take that, Peter!


Martyrdom of St. Lawrence, Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna

No. 3: St. Lawrence (ca. 225-258)

You’ve got to hand it to the Romans: they could figure out some pretty creative ways to kill people. Lawrence, one of the many the deacons of Rome martyred during the persecution of Valerian, was sentenced to death on a gridiron under which a mighty fire was stoked. Yet the flames did not immolate him immediately; he had time to make one of the great (maybe the only) martyr jokes of all time, taunting has torturers: “I’m done on this side, turn me over!” The joke goes on, since Lawrence became the patron saint of both roasters and comedians. (An unverified legend also states that Lawrence is the originator of the phrase “bada bing, bada boom.”) Two of his relics are on display in Rome: his burnt head in St. Peter’s, and the gridiron in San Lorenzo in Lucina. Although his martyrdom has been treated in art through the ages, he appears no where as vigorous and brilliant than in the fifth-century Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna, where the mosaics make everything bright and fiery.


St. Barbara, drawn by Jan van Eyck

No. 2: St. Barbara (mid-3rd c. – 306)

Barbara was the daughter of a crazy man named Dioscorus who locked his daughter in a tower with two high windows to keep her safe from the prying eyes of the world.   Somehow, in spite of her isolation, she became a Christian, which inspired her to undertake an Extreme Makeover: Christian Edition when her father was away from home.  Barbara had an extra window opened in the tower (another miraculous event, seeing how she was directing a renovation project while still ensconced in her tower). This symbol of the Trinity apparently gave her away and was the spiritual straw that broke Dioscorus’ pagan back, and he determined  to punish his wayward daughter in a reasonable way: by skewering her with his sword.

This is where it starts to get weird.

Barbara was saved from her sword-wielding father by a miraculous, fourth-century version of Star Trek’s transporter.  She ended up in a mountain gorge with two shepherds. The first one helped her hide, but the second one revealed the hiding place to her father. (Word to the wise: don’t get in the way of a future saint’s miraculous angelic escape from her oppressor; the bad shepherd was turned into a stone and his sheep turned into locusts.)  Dioscorus dragged Barbara to the provincial prefect who tortured her for days on end.  Becoming increasingly frustrated that every night the devout and faithful woman’s wounds were healed by the magic light that appeared in what should have been a dark prison cell, the imperial oppressors finally gave up and allowed Barbara’s dad to carry out his original intention to cut off her head.  Ignoring the lesson of the stone-shepherd, he killed his daughter and then went on his way, only to be struck by lightening and instantly consumed by fire.   To this day, any one who faces the sudden threat of death on a daily basis, or in particular, anyone who works with explosives (miners, military engineers) looks to Barbara as their patron saint.

KUTNA HORA St. Barbara 292

Cathedral of St. Barbara

Although her relics are maintained in Kiev, Barbara has lots of art and architecture dedicated to her, including a most extraordinary church in Kutná Hora, Czech Republic, built by silver miners starting in the late fourteenth century. People have long wondered about its unusual, three-part roof form. My guess: it is a reference to those three windows that got Barbara into trouble in the first place, or the medieval builders figured out that this kind of weird and curvy roof-form would resist lightening strikes. But I am pretty much just making that up.

Barbara’s story is fantastic, and her later artwork good, but the saint whose story is elegantly simple yet stunningly memorable, and who inspired not just a single building or even a series of arresting sculptures (which he did) but ultimately affected the history of a country and, and AND inspired an entire stylistic and technical revolution in architecture is . . . (drum roll. . . )


The Martyrdom of St. Denis (as seen in one part of his basilica)

No. 1: St. Denis (3rd c.)

Italian-born Denis was sent to convert the Gauls (with Sernin of the bull, see above); he became the bishop on a crummy little island in the Seine which would later be called Paris.  He effected enough conversions to alarm the locals who dragged him to the top of Paris’ highest hill, perhaps the site of a druidic shrine, and lopped off his head ca. 250. It’s possible that the event gave the hill its name, Montmartre (mons martyrium, “martyr’s mountain”).  (This area became famous later in the nineteenth century for a whole new kind of suffering when artists like Picaso, Van Gogh and Degas called it home.)  The best part about Denis’ life was the extent to which he was unwilling to give it up: most people, when their necks meet the wrong end of an axe, they’re done.  But not our Denis. After his beheading, the plucky bishop picked up his own noggin and carried it for two miles, preaching all the way. (I think of Denis every time I wonder if I should cancel my lectures due to a scratchy throat or fever and imagine he would shake his head—I guess with his hands?—and pronounce me très wimpy; pathétique.) Eventually he did get tired, or maybe he just finished his sermon, and after planting his gourd on the soil a few miles from the site where it was severed from his body, he died. On the spot a shrine grew up, and eventually the church of St. Denis was founded there.

The first basilica was begun by Pepin the Short, who is buried outside of the entrance as he wished, face down, to atone for the sins of his father Charles Martel; the building was completed by Charlemagne.  The participation of these figures in the building’s construction established its centrality in French history: Denis himself was named the patron saint of France, Joan of Arc blessed her weapons at the abbey, almost all of the kings of France are buried here, and many of the queens were crowned in the church.  Architecturally,  the building is hugely important; its expansion  and aggrandizement under Abbot Suger from 1137 to 1144 made it ground zero for the invention of Gothic architecture.

denis moyen age

St. Denis (Museum of the Middle Ages, Paris)

For the resounding impact his life and death have made on the history of France and for his inspiration to the person who can be credited for laying the intellectual-theoretical-theological foundation for Gothic architecture, Denis achieves high marks.  For those of us who earn our keep by lecturing he is of special significance.  Denis provides encouragement to keep going even when the going gets tough: no way would he reschedule a midterm just because of a little bout of H1N1.

St. Denis is also invoked for protection against frenzy, headaches, strife, rabies and possessed people.  Truly he is the guardian of all who have embraced the professorial life.  Merci beaucoup, Denis.