Sacred Architecture of London

Views: 1152
Ratings: (0)

London has a unique series of churches built after the Great Fire of 1666, when most of the City of London was destroyed. Among these iconic churches are St Paul's, St Mary-le-Bow, St Bride's, St Clement Danes, St Martin-in-the-Fields, St Mary-le-Strand, St George Bloomsbury and Christ Church Spitalfields. They remain today as outstanding landmarks that define their local cityscapes. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren and his followers - Hawksmoor, Gibbs, Archer and James - these beautiful churches embody spiritual principles expressed through the conventions of Classical architecture. Underlying their outward, visible forms is sacred geometry, an ancient art that explores the invisible inner structure of the Cosmos and gives expression to it in physical form. In this book, Nigel Pennick explains the sacred geometry, spiritual symbols and emblems that make these churches among the most notable buildings of London.

List price: $14.99

Your Price: $11.99

You Save: 20%

 

11 Slices

Format Buy Remix

1 Legend, Precepts and Principles

ePub

My Streets are my Ideas of Imagination
Awake Albion, awake! And let us awake up together.

William Blake

Legendary history is the foundation of all ancient traditions. It forms the mythological basis for all religions, as well as national stories throughout the world. Each land, each faith, has its own particular foundation myth and particular named individuals associated with it. Mythic ancestral parental couples like Bor and Bestla, Beli and Anna, Askr and Embla or Adam and Eve vie for priority with more individualized characters such as Aeneas, Brutus, Einiged, Woden, Noah, Romulus and Remus, Hengest and Horsa. Along with sagas, lays, genealogies, legendary chronicles, myths and histories, these characters and stories make up the spiritual basis for individual cultures, the particular legendarium that defines a faith, a nation or a people.

London’s classical tradition is an expression of the city’s legendarium,5 a component of what William Blake called “The Acts of Albion” (otherwise ‘The Matter of Britain’). The basic elements of the legendarium come through ancient writings that, when they were written, had the authority of having been handed down from what was even then great antiquity, rooted in the eldritch world. These myths tell us about our cultural roots, expressing no less than the character and inner principles of British identity. British legendary history was recorded chiefly by Geoffrey of Monmouth (1136), Matthew of Westminster (1307) and Matthew Paris, who used earlier sources including the writings of Gildas and ancient Welsh redactions of Brut. Thus medieval writers acknowledged the pre-Christian origin of the British nation. Later it was re-framed by Raphael Holinshed in his Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland and features in the inspired works of William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, John Milton and William Blake.

 

2 Spiritual Principles: Place, Times and Form

ePub

Matter takes on actual being by acquiring a form.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Ia, lxxv. 6.

The sacred buildings erected in London after the Great Fire followed the classical tradition as renewed by Leon Battista Alberti. They were not made with the literalism employed by later neoclassical architects,31 but were the result of the intelligent creative use of themes, geometries and forms from ancient buildings that had been studied by Italian antiquarians and leading architects including Alberti, Serlio and Montano. These architects recognized that the eternal tradition manifests in particular form in any place and time where true principles are applied. The precepts of this tradition are embodied in any sacred building that is constructed according to these true principles and located accordingly. Sir Christopher Wren recognized this when he wrote of the ancients, “Not only their Altars and Sacrifices were mystical, but the very Forms of their Temples”. In addition to the classical orders, proportion and measure, these new London temples also incorporated geometrical principles developed by the masters of the medieval Gothic, especially in their towers and steeples. Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor designed new Gothic buildings where stylistic considerations were demanded.32

 

3 Number, Measure and Harmony

ePub

As from the power of sacred lays
The spheres began to move,
And sung the great creator’s praise
To all the blessed above.

John Dryden, A Song for St Cecilia’s Day.

The underlying principles of spiritual architecture are sacred geometry and number. The principle of number was discussed by Renaissance architectural theorists and applied in their building design. Often seen as the basis of proportion, and hence classical beauty, the actual virtues of numbers per se also appears as a significant principle. The Pythagorean qualities of number, known since antiquity, are not the abstract numbers of modern mathematics, but entities in their own right. In this view, number and geometry are not distinctly different, but aspects of the holistic understanding of space. As Jacopo de’Barbari explained, “There is no proportion without number, and no form without geometry”.78

The sacred art of geometry embodies the abstract realities expressed in geometrical forms that are visible expressions of the innermost truths of the world’s being, acting in accordance with the course of Nature.79 Sir Christopher Wren’s motto was Numero, Pondera et Mensura, ‘By Number, Weight and Measure’. This saying is ascribed to Solomon, and taken from the Vulgate Book of Wisdom (xi, 21). Order is brought out of chaos through the proper use of number, weight and measure. Then life is brought into harmony with the spiritual ideal. Such architecture manifests a spirituality that transcends religious doctrines, in the creation of an ennobling presence. True order can exist only in harmony with Nature, when human life is in accordance with the spiritual ideal. Until recently, Wren’s ceremonial measuring rod was on display in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral. Wren’s manuscript note on Hawksmoor’s drawing of the Mausoleum states: “The Fabrick was in the Age of Pythagoras and his School, when the World began to be fond of Geometry, and Arithmetick”. Elsewhere, he wrote, “Geometrical Figures are naturally more beautiful than other irregular; in this all consent as to a Law of Nature”.80

 

4 The Sacred Art of Geometry in Action

ePub

It is in the public interest to learn and practise the art of geometry.

Justinian’s Compendium of Civil Law.

The basics of geometry do not change, neither does the symbolism. Geometry is the underlying continuity in sacred art, which has been known and developed from the time of megalithic Europe and the ancient Egyptians, and added to by the analytical work of the Greek philosophers Archimedes and Euclid. A key work in western geometry is Euclid’s The Thirteen Books of the Elements, written originally in ancient Greek, but transmitted to later times through Arabic and then Latin versions. In the twelfth century, the Italian Gerard of Cremona, and the English scholar Aethelhard, produced Latin translations, and in the thirteenth century, Johannes Campanus of Novaro made a version that was infuential until the renais-sance.124 Euclid’s work contains defnitions, postulates, propositions and proofs of various geometical problems that have formed the basis of teaching ‘Euclidean geometry’ to this day. However, the most infuential architectural theorist of the renaissance, Leon Battista Alberti, does not mention Euclid, but was a follower of Archimedes. In addition to the known written sources of antiquity, Archimedes, Euclid and Vitruvius being among the most signifcant, there is a parallel transmission through craftsmanship, generally kept as trade secrets. By the mid-seventeenth century, all the various ancient works were published and available to architects, as well as the now-divulged trade secrets of the masons and carpenters, who had formerly not given them to anyone who was not a fellow practitioner. In addition, there was continuous research and progress brought about through new insights and discoveries. It is because of the integration of these multiple sources in the seventeenth century that the unique buildings erected after the Great Fire of London took the form they did.

 

5 Practical Geometry Techniques

ePub

Form is a revelation of essence.

Meister Eckhart (c.1260-1328)

There are several basic ways of applying geometry to building. Measurements can be taken either from the edge of solid material, as in the craft of carpentry, or from the centre of the wall, as in bricklaying and masonry. The masons’ line runs plumb centre, and the carpenters’ line runs along surfaces. These two different ‘arts of line’ stem from the characteristics of the material used. Stonemasons mark out the centre, from which the edges and surfaces are created, whilst carpenters mark out a face edge, from which the other surfaces are derived. Only in wood turning do the two principles coincide, though the centre may be derived from a face edge, as in balustrades which have a square component. The art of making timber-frame buildings measures out the sacred geometry along edges, not through the centre-lines of the main posts. Corresponding stone pillars have their conceptual lines running plumb centre. Overall geometrical schemata can vary, depending upon the emphasis. The geometry of inner spaces is highly signifcant; more so than the outer shell in Gothic architecture, though geometry is applied to every individual external feature. This is more apparent in the simpler Gothic buildings, such as chapels, chantries and chapter houses, rather than the much more complex cathedrals. In classical architecture, interiors are ruled by lines that define the inner surfaces of the walls, floor and ceiling. Facades are also ruled by lines defining the outer surfaces. This geometry is very apparent in Dutch classicism and in James Gibbs’s gable geometry, published in 1732 in his Rules for the Drawing the Several Parts of Architecture.

 

6 Symbols and Emblemata

ePub

Man rashly mounting through the empty Skies
With wanton Wings shall cross the Seas wel-nigh
And (doubtles) if the Geometrician fnde
Another World where (to his working Minde)
To place at pleasure and convenience
His wondrous Engines and rare Instruments,
Even (like a little God) in time he may
To some new place transport this World away.

Salluste du Bartas, His Devine Weekes and Workes, (translated by J. Sylvester, London 1606).

The infuential tradition of emblem books emerged from the renewed interest in the meaning of classical myths, allegories and symbols in ffteenth century Italy. Francesco Colonna’s book, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, published in Venice in 1499, provided the infuential early emblematicists, Andrea Alciato and Achille Bocci, with some of their motifs. Alciato’s Emblemata, which first appeared in 1531, ran through 170 known editions. Between 1531 and 1700, it is estimated that over two thousand editions appeared of around one thousand different emblem books, written by six hundred authors.187Achille Bocci (1488-1562), who taught in the Faculty of Rhetoric at the University of Bologna from 1508 until 1562, was an important influence upon the development of the emblem book, developing the theory of emblematics in a practical form.188 His major work, Symbolicae Quaestiones (1555) used Pagan imagery which gave specific functions for gods and personifications such as Atlas, Bellerophon, Constantia, Fortuna, Hercules, Mercury, Minerva, Neptune, Proteus and Sapientia as well as Socrates’ daimon and the triumphal car of the Gallic Hercules, Ogmios (depicted as binding the ears of his followers with the chains of eloquence). In addition, Bocci’s emblems employed architectural features such as Temples of Janus, Fortune and Honour, urns, garlands and obelisks (which had appeared in Hypnerotomachia Poliphili and later in physical form in the new classical architecture). The classical Pagan tradition had been explored in both Boccaccio’s Genialogia degli Dei (Genealogy of the Gods) and Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. Many appear to have been designed according to the precepts of the art of memory.189

 

7 Towers and Steeples

ePub

Carpenter, mason, glazier,
Each according to his craft,
There one sets, another cuts,
This one hits, this one bats, this strikes;
He of the axe, he of the hammer,
He of the mallet and of the chisel.

Matthew Paris, The Story of St Edward, the King (c. 1245).

Individually designed towers and steeples visible from afar were an integral part of how the new churches characterized each place. Apart from the examples mentioned above, they were located among secular buildings in the old city street plan, and not on Wrenian avenues. In his 1711 letter of recommendations, Wren wrote of “handsome Spires, or Lanterns, rising in good Proportion above the neighbouring Houses (of which I have given several examples in the City of different forms)”.267 In 1728, James Gibbs commented, “Steeples are indeed of a Gothic Extraction but they have their Beauties when their Parts are well disposed, and when the Plan of the several Degrees and Orders of which they are compos’d gradually diminish, and pass from one Form to another without confusion, and when every Part has the Appearance of a proper Bearing”.268 The limitless scope for creative design can still be seen in those that remain. Their individual authorship is a matter of continuing debate. Various commentators ascribe them to Wren alone, in association with or by Dickinson, Hooke, Oliver, Woodroffe or

 

8 Masterworks of a Superior Order

ePub

No person can in this life reach the point at which he is excused from outward works.

Meister Eckhart.

Although every London church of the era was built according to sacred geometry and classical proportions, and founded with customary rites and ceremonies, there is not space to describe each one individually. St Paul’s Cathedral is, without doubt, the major London church of this period, and my work on it will appear in a subsequent publication. This chapter is a selection of the more notable examples of the work of three architects: Wren, Hawksmoor and Gibbs. The principles embodied in these churches reveal the character of the others not described here. They all embody structure and symbol in a masterly way, emulating a superior order that emanates from the creative intelligence that is the source of all. This commonality of purpose is the thread that links them all.

The London architects of this era understood and acknowledged continuity. Many new churches were built on the sites of earlier ones, themselves having replaced, it was believed, Pagan temples of the ancient Britons and Romans. These architects acknowledged pluralistic sources in Pagan, Jewish and Christian spiritual traditions, and understood their basic principles well enough to create unified ensembles. Inscriptions in Hebrew, Greek and Latin acknowledge these multiple sources of spirituality, whilst mathematical, mythic, emblematic, symbolic, astrological and craft traditions also have their often unobtrusive places. Clearly, these structures expressed something of the aspirations of their builders, and possess a soul of their own.303

 

Appendix 1: Glossary of technical terms

ePub

AD QUADRATUM Geometrical scheme based upon the square and subdivisions of the square

AD TRIANGULUM Geometrical scheme based upon the equilateral triangle and its developments

AEDICULE Architectural frame of a niche or opening, with columns and entablature (q.v.)

ARCHITRAVE The lowest segment of the three parts of the entablature, also a moulding around a door or window

BEAK Complex moulding with convex geometric curve, semicircular concave undercut and oval-section lower part

BALDACCHINO Columned tabernacle covering a high altar

CAPITAL Head of a column, varying in form between the fve classical orders

CARDINAL DIRECTIONS North, east, south and west. Between each are the intercardinal directions

CARDO The straight north-south road of the Etruscan Discipline, crossing the decumanus at the omphalos, or centre

CAVETTO Hollow moulding, generally a quadrant of a circle, but sometimes a more complex geometric curve

COMPOSITE Architectural order originating in Imperial Rome, combining Ionic volutes with Corinthian foliage

 

Appendix 2: A chronology of London classical church building

ePub

There were fifty-six churches rebuilt in the City and environs in the aftermath of the Great Fire, as well as St Paul’s Cathedral. More were built outside the City boundaries after the 1711 act. In addition to purely classical designs, signifcant Gothic reconstructions and constructions are listed, for example Hawksmoor’s additions to Westminster Abbey. Few churches ascribed to Wren are wholly his design, and this is not surprising in the context of how many designs had to be produced. Wren was in charge of the project and he certainly authorized any design that was built. So the rubric ‘Wren churches’ is more a matter of convenience than direct ascription. Wren as virtually sole author is celebrated in Christopher Cockerell’s much-reproduced watercolour, A Tribute to the Memory of Sir Christopher Wren (1838), and Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo’s infuential book of 1883, Wren’s City Churches.

St Paul’s Cathedral, St Mary-le-Bow, St Stephen’s Walbrook, St Andrew’s Holborn and St James, Piccadilly are almost totally by Sir Christopher Wren. But not every design component in any of these churches was necessarily by the named architect. The associates and assistants of Wren frequently produced their own designs for various parts, and perhaps whole churches traditionally ascribed to Wren were not by him. In some ‘Wren’ churches, the major hand in design was Robert Hooke. Edward Woodroffe and John Oliver also may have designed individual buildings. Events certainly affected the buildings. No new church was begun in 1673, when England was engaged in a naval war with Holland. Steeple design altered radically after 1703. When Hooke died in 1703, Nicholas Hawksmoor became a more important infuence. Hawksmoor certainly designed some steeples of ‘Wren’ churches, as did William Dickinson, and later he worked in association with John James. But how much the design change came about because of Hawksmoor and how much was a response to the November 1703 hurricane is unknown.

 

Appendix 3: London multi-stage steeples completion dates

ePub

 

Details

Print Book
E-Books
Slices

Format name
ePub (DRM)
Encrypted
true
Sku
9781781810552
Isbn
9781781810552
File size
0 Bytes
Printing
Disabled
Copying
Disabled
Read aloud
No
Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Sku
In metadata
Isbn
In metadata
File size
In metadata