The first important example of Gothic architecture was the ambulatory of the abbey of Saint-Denis, constructed between 1140 and 1144. Saint-Denis embodies the first daring use of large areas of glass, coupled with a brilliant organization of space. Its influence was immediate, and the possibilities of the new style were eagerly explored in structures such as the cathedrals of Sens, Noyon, Laon, and Paris, begun in the ensuing decades of the 12th cent.
The High Gothic phase of architecture was ushered in by the Cathedral of Chartres, begun after 1194 and followed in rapid succession by the cathedrals of Bourges, Reims, Amiens, and Beauvais. These structures surged to unprecedented heights. A further reduction of opaque wall surfaces in favor of graceful screens of stone tracery and glass led toward the formation of the Gothic Rayonnant style around the mid-13th cent. The most striking achievements of Rayonnant design, the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris and the Church of St. Urban in Troyes, have walls almost entirely of glass, held in place by only a thin skeletal frame of masonry.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.