Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Locus iste a Deo factus est!

The following from the WYD 2005 Handbook, expresses what I only had a chance to touch on in a previous post on sacred architecture. It's well worth reproducing in full here:

Cologne Cathedral - An image of Heaven

Humans need visions. They give us the wings we need to break out of the daily grind and enter dimensions whose extent cannot be measured.

After that memorable night when Jacob dreamed that he had seen angels of God ascending and descending on a ladder between heaven and earth, he awoke from his sleep and built an altar of stones. He said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven" (Gen 28:17). He named this place Bethel, which means "house of God". After a symbolic lifelong journey through the desert under the guidance of an omnipotent, but invisible God, the Israelites erected Him an impressive house, a temple. It is said that when the Ark of the Covenant was brought into the temple, the divine glory filled the house of God (cf. 2 Chr 5:13 et seq.).

The first churches whose architecture was based on the Temple Hill in Jerusalem reflected this image of a house of God among humans. From the very beginning, the House of God was seen as a threshold to heaven, to some extent giving the churches the capacity of a "peephole" into heaven.

The place where Cologne Cathedral now stands was the location of the 3rd-century
Maternushaus which later became the church of Bishop Carentius (6th century). During the 8th and 9th century, a large Carolingian cathedral was erected on the same site, followed by the Gothic cathedral building we are familiar with today. We celebrated the 750th anniversary of its foundation on August 15, 1998.

The two most significant spiritual fathers of the Gothic style are probably the abbots Bernhard of Clairvaux and Suger of St Denis. They brought new life to the vision of heaven through the intense use of light and applied geometry in their architectural designs. They perceived earthly geometry as a reflection of heavenly harmony and hence consistently applied the principle of measurement and calculation. Cologne Cathedral is an impressive example of mathematical skill. Based on the Roman foot of 29.57 cm (approx. 11.6 inches), the basic floor plan of the Cathedral uses 25, 50, 100, 250 and 300 Roman feet as its main measurements. The point of reference is the quadrum which measures 50 Roman feet on each side. At 150 Roman feet the width of the Cathedral is equal to its height. In other words, the ratio of width to height is 1:1. The length of the nave is 150 Roman feet, equal to the measurements of the quadrum and choir. The ratio of the quadrum to the width of the transept and the choir is 1:2, while the ratio of transept width to overall length (excluding tower hall and choir ambulatory) is 1:3. The ratio of the quadrum to the length between the western and eastern portals (excluding tower hall and choir apse) is 1:6, and the nave is one twelfth of the length of the Cathedral with a ratio of 25 to 300 Roman feet.

A simple comparison of the ratios used for the floor plan illustrates that the basically simple approach of using a 1:2 ratio, relative to the quadrum, shows many parallels to the design demanded by the Roman master builder Vitruvius for Antique temples.

The actual culmination of this edifice, designed according to mathematical eurhythmy, is found in the description of the Heavenly Jerusalem. The Apocalypse refers to a vision of a heavenly city of God, seen by John the Mystic at the end of the first century AD, which used a width to length to height ratio of 1:1:1 - clearly a role model for Cologne Cathedral.

The imagery of this heavenly city is also reflected in the Cathedral. Its former 12 gates represent the 12 gates mentioned in chapter 21 of the Apocalypse. Besides the portals at the Cathedral's southern, western and northern ends - three at each end - three further - 21 - doors used to lead into the choir sanctuary at the eastern end of the building. The twelve foundation stones of the Divine City with the names of the twelve apostles can be seen to correspond to the twelve choir pillars which also carry their names.

The heavenly light, indicated by words such as "light", "illumination", "Glory of God" and "crystal", is reflected in the transparent glass walls. The colored light streaming into the Cathedral from outside is intended to elevate the soul to a higher, undefined plane of light that represents God Himself. Set inside "a sea of glass, like crystal" (Rev 4:6), the clerestory windows above the choir flank the 24 kings of the Old Covenant - alternating with the 24 kings of the New Covenant - as the representatives of the 24 Elders of the Apocalypse.

The Worship of the Lamb is represented in a context of local tradition, depicted in the form of a scene of worship by the Magi before the child; after all, the relics of the Wise Men lie directly below this vision of heavenly liturgy.

The exterior of the Cathedral, too, displays many parallels. The western façade, designed in concert with the portals as a "gateway to heaven", points to the interior of the Cathedral as the throne-room of God.

Cologne Cathedral is a metaphorical manifestation, rather than an illusionist representation, of the Heavenly City. The application of geometry in its architecture and its symbolism of light expresses the relationship between metaphor and reality probably far more convincingly than any other architectural style ever could.

Dr Friedhelm Hofmann
Bishop of Würzburg

The photo above of the East end of Cologne Cathedral was taken on the Feast of Epiphany in 2003.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

good stuff, very helpful

7:31 am  

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