NEH banner [Return to Query]

Products for grant FB-57854-14

Early Liturgy, History, and the Arts at Saint-Denis under Abbot Suger, 1121-1151
Tova Leigh-Choate, Unaffiliated Independent Scholar

Grant details:

‘To be sated at the heavenly table instead of at the present one’: Abbot Suger on Food, Feasting, and Song. (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: ‘To be sated at the heavenly table instead of at the present one’: Abbot Suger on Food, Feasting, and Song.
Author: Tova Leigh-Choate
Abstract: Historian, regent of France, and patron of art and architecture, Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis was also a liturgist and liturgical commentator. He endowed feasts and memorials, and he described in his charters and historical writings the significance of liturgical ritual and liturgical objects. While most famous for his celebration of the visual aspects of the liturgy—bejeweled vessels, anagogical narratives in sculpture and stained glass, etc.—Suger also highlighted the role of the other senses in liturgical experience. This paper explores the significance of taste, food, and feasting (or not) in Suger’s liturgical thought, in the abbey’s liturgical records, and in the medieval liturgy and its commentary traditions more broadly. It also demonstrates the importance of charters and other kinds of writings in our efforts to reconstruct and understand the liturgies of the past.
Date: 05/21/2015
Conference Name: Senses of the Liturgy Conference/Plainsong and Medieval Music Study Day, Bristol, England.

Music, Memory, and the Monastic Meal at Saint-Denis in the Twelfth Century (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Music, Memory, and the Monastic Meal at Saint-Denis in the Twelfth Century
Author: Tova Leigh-Choate
Abstract: This dinner talk and discussion connected Abbot Suger’s famous Gothic portals and chevet of the abbey church of Saint-Denis with the abbey’s musical liturgies and other activities, including meals in the refectory. It highlights some of the ways that art, architecture, objects, song, and even food and drink combined to promote the memory of the saints (especially Saint Denis and the Virgin Mary), the royal dead buried in the abbey church (in particular, "good king Dagobert" and Charles the Bald), and Abbot Suger himself.
Date: 02/03/2016
Conference Name: Dinner with the Yale Club of France, Paris.

Song, Image, Food: The Senses of Memory at Abbot Suger’s Saint-Denis (Public Lecture or Presentation)
Title: Song, Image, Food: The Senses of Memory at Abbot Suger’s Saint-Denis
Abstract: This presentation introduced the many ways in which song and sound, food and taste interacted with iconography and architecture at Abbot Suger's Gothic church of Saint-Denis in the twelfth century. I demonstrated several ways in which Abbot Suger invoked the different senses to further the monastic work of commemoration. These included the refurbishment of the church's central liturgical core and the rebuilding of the monks' refectory; the introduction of weekly commemorations for Saint Denis and the Virgin, and the reestablishment of other commemorations for royal benefactors—all tied to Suger's own memory and celebrated with special liturgies and meals; and inscriptions and iconography linking food and music in stone, stained glass, and other liturgical furnishings and objects. Beyond the stunning architectural and visual innovation for which it is known, Suger's church served as a multi-sensory memory palace and as a stage for the miraculous, where monks, abbots, and kings might hope for a place at the heavenly feast.
Author: Tova Leigh-Choate
Date: 03/22/2017
Location: University of Texas at Austin

Singing for Their Supper: Chant in the Medieval Refectory (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Singing for Their Supper: Chant in the Medieval Refectory
Author: Tova Leigh-Choate
Abstract: Not all singing happened in the choir or even the church in the Middle Ages. Processions outside the church, for instance, were conducted in song, from the psalms and litanies that filled the great distances to the antiphons and responsories that marked important cultic destinations. Chapter meetings, too, included the singing of multiple kinds of chant. This paper explores a little known practice in a forgotten musical setting: the singing of chant in and around the monastic refectory. If we are accustomed to thinking of the refectory as a place of silence, medieval customaries show that this was not the case. Through its rituals and layout, the refectory became a sacred space, linked in many ways to the choir and altar of the church. Indeed, the intoning of blessings and readings and sometimes even the singing of psalms, antiphons, or other chants before and after mealtime made the monks refectio not so much a break from the liturgy as a continuation of it, and a commentary upon it. Indeed, the use of music in the refectory reflected the liturgical season and the relative festivity of the liturgy in the church. This paper relies on customaries, ordinals, prayer books, and other historical sources to illuminate the performance of chant before, during, and after mealtime in the medieval monastery.
Date: 08/06/2016
Conference Name: 18th Meeting of the IMS Study Group “Cantus Planus,” Dublin, Ireland

The Sacred Topography of Medieval Paris: Relics, Routes, and Song in the City of Saint Denis (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: The Sacred Topography of Medieval Paris: Relics, Routes, and Song in the City of Saint Denis
Author: Tova Leigh-Choate
Abstract: From its early days as a Christian city, Paris—like many cities in France—was defined in relation to the life and death of its first evangelizer and bishop. The earliest passio of Saint Denis, from the late fifth or early sixth century, described the saint’s arrival, evangelical activities, and martyrdom in the pagan stronghold. Abbot Hilduin’s famous ninth-century passio further elaborated the city’s sacred topography, from its center, where Saint Denis endured torments and imprisonment, to Montmartre, where the saint and his companions suffered martyrdom. But the saint’s medieval cult centered on the abbey of Saint-Denis outside Paris, the burial place chosen (according to Hilduin) by the head-toting martyr himself. Indeed, the suburban abbey enjoyed unrivaled prosperity and fame as the shrine of the royal patron saint, the royal necropolis and depository, and the beneficiary of the famous Lendit and Saint Denis fairs. It also boasted independence from the bishop of Paris. This paper explores the efforts of the Notre-Dame canons and Capetian kings to claim the cult of Saint Denis for the city, particularly after Paris became the uncontested capital of the French kingdom in the twelfth century. These efforts included the canons’ centuries-long contest over the saint’s cranium; their particular elaborations of his festal liturgies and institution of a new feast, the Susceptio reliquiarum; their frequent processions to the stational church of Saint-Denis-du-Pas; and their annual processions to Montmartre. The monarchy, while increasing its allegiance to the abbey of Saint-Denis, also augmented the saint’s urban legacy by endowing churches associated with places in his vita et passio, calling for urban processions of his relics, and instituting his liturgical cult at the Sainte-Chapelle. This paper thus maps the sacred topography of medieval Paris as the city of Saint Denis.
Date: 06/26/2015
Conference Name: International Medieval Society—Paris, Annual Symposium, 26 June 2015