Sacred space in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Gardens of the righteous: sacred space in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Akel Ismail Kahera

Man is different from other creatures in that only he can aspire to know God and in this lies his only fulfillment; but he can either choose or deny this glorious possibility.

St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274)

I have long been convinced of the necessity to examine the aesthetics principles and the meaning of sacred space in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Aesthetic beauty, which we find in the sacred art and architecture of the synagogue, the church, and the mosque, demonstrates a genre of correspondences. Borrowing from John Ruskin’s Seven Lamps of Architecture, I will refer to this genre of correspondences as the seven lamps (“lamps” meaning that which illuminates the mind or soul) of sacred architecture. They are: sacrifice, truth, power, beauty, life, memory, and obedience; and when combined, they enhance devout practice and provide spiritual vitality in the sacred spaces they fill.

Ruskin first proposed the seven lamps of sacred architecture in 1848 when he carefully examined the essence of Gothic architecture in Europe. (1) It was Ruskin who first argued that these seven lamps sustain the essential character of religious architecture.

I wish to present a fresh interpretation of Ruskin’s seven lamps in relation to worship, devotion, and aesthetics using two separate lines of argument. The first argument is based on the hermeneutics of aesthetic representation. The second line of argument is based on the exegesis of divine revelation especially as it relates to the “people of the book”–Jews, Christians, and Muslims–or ahl lil kitab, as they are referred to in the Qur’an. I make use of exegesis because of its temporal value, which informs the way we understand and interpret symbols and archetypes. The holy books of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam instruct believers to build places of worship; it is this injunction that has inspired the freedom to congregate in collective remembrance of God. Thus we have the synagogue, the church, and the mosque, three different types of place, but all designed for the same purpose of elevating the soul.

Religious architecture is a sacred art which adorns the edifices raised by men and women for their use. The experience of spiritual devotion in each edifice may enhance our mental health and spiritual well being. Therefore, religious architecture is concerned with the making of sacred space for contemplation and worship.

The concept of sacred space in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam owes its origin, on the one hand, to the existence of theological formulations which have evolved over time, and to the aesthetic traditions associated with historical circumstances. The notion of “sacred space” then depends on three variables: first, the specific aesthetic image of the edifice; second, the nature of the link between the edifice and acts of worship; third, at the most basic level it includes ritual meaning and laws that are considered to be sacred.

The Lamp of Sacrifice: Expressions of Beauty and Sacrifice

St. Francis and his love of nature have inspired innumerable expressions of beauty. Devoted to the words of Jesus: “Possess no gold or silver or copper in your purses, no traveling bag, no sandals, no staff” (Luke 9:1-3), he gave up possession of material items to show his true devotion to Christianity. Thus the sacrificial life of St. Francis has influenced and challenged minimalists, like Mexican architect Luis Barragan (1902-88), to use only the most necessary materials when constructing a place of worship.

In Mexico City, Barragan designed the Chapel of Capuchinas Sacramentarias del Purisimo de Maria at Tlalpan, a chapel and garden for a Franciscan order of nuns. (2) Heightening the religious experience through simplicity in design and allowing pure manmade spaces to interact with natural elements–timber, water, light–it is said the sisters “never leave the convent, praying constantly for forgiveness for the world’s sins.” (3) The straight, austere stucco walls are pervaded by a delicately warm light which fills its space with an air of radiance. “Light enters from two sources, which filter and transform it.” (4) The light filtering through the lattice into the main chapel illuminates it into a halo. Light also descends from above reaching the main chapel walls. In the patio, purple bougainvillea tumble down the walls.

“Water lying like a mirror stretches to the brim of a black stone fountain, with great simplicity, the patio is turned into the sky’s facade.” (5) The Mirror reflects the celestial, it keeps the architecture alive, it gives the work a presence that makes it subtle yet assertive, significant and symbolic.

Using only a few rich tactile materials, which are enhanced by natural light Barragan created a strong mystical ambience in the chapel. The wealth of Barragan’s restraint is illustrated in his encounter with the Alhambra in 1924.

Having walked through a dark and narrow tunnel of the Alhambra, I suddenly emerged into the serene, silent solitary Patios of the Myrtles hidden in the entrails of that ancient palace. Somehow I had the feeling that it enclosed what a perfect garden, no matter its size, should enclose–nothing less than the entire Universe. This memorable epiphany has always been with me, and it is not mere chance that from the first garden for which I am responsible all those following are attempts to capture the echo of the immense lesson to be derived from the aesthetic wisdom of the Spanish Moors. (6)

Barragan’s fascination with Moorish Spain fuses concepts of space and Muslim building tradition whose roots are defined by religious aesthetic codes. In the Chapel of Capuchinas Sacramentarias, Barragan does not attempt to replicate the “vision of Paradise,” which the gardens of the Alhambra conjure up, instead he subscribes to the meditative quality of Muslim aesthetics which are effectively integrated in his own work.

The greatest impression on my life was a trip I took to Africa. I saw the construction called the Casbah, situated to the south of Morocco. Aesthetically, what I found there is most in harmony with the landscape, the people who live there, their clothing, the atmosphere and even more in tune with their own dances, their families. In other words I found the perfect integration of their religion with the whole environment in which they lived and the material objects with which they came into contact. (7)

Barragan’s notion of the garden and indeed the enclosed sanctuary tell us about his aesthetic path. It is this path which redirects his work in Mexico towards a religious experience, and a reorientation which validates human experience over interpretation, contemplation over rhetoric and substance over mediocrity. (8)

It is from the Islamic notion of compartmentalized and successive garden spaces that Barragan developed his feeling for walled enclosures and his love for the sound of running water….Since then Barragan’s mind remained attuned to the intimate garden…it is the intimacy of the Islamic garden that seduces him. (9)

The Lamp of Truth: Reiterations of Geometry and Cosmology

Every aspect of sacred art is finite but not absolute since it does not assume an autonomy that does not belong to it. The primary reason for avoiding figurative representation in the sacred art of Judaism and Islam is to avoid illusion (al-wahm) or corruption of the human imagination. More precisely, illusion, projects one “order” of reality onto another, this means that every artistic creation must be treated according to the laws of its domain of existence and must make these laws intelligible. While man cannot change these laws he seeks to understand and interpret them. “In Judaism there is a perpetual insistence on the one hand that art is not employed or enjoyed for its own sake nor certainly as an object of worship.” (10) Lindsay Jones explains how the notion of truth as seen in biblical text and the exegesis of revelation can be understood:

Yet there is on the other hand receptivity to the notion that the artwork that embellishes religious manuscripts and ceremonial objects along with synagogue architecture and decoration, can and thus should facilitate a beautification of the commandments. (11)

Thus historically, Jews even while respecting biblical prohibitions against representational art have been quite willing to acknowledge that art and architecture have a major role to play in bringing meaning and emotion to religious architecture and thus enhancing the fulfillment of God’s revelatory instructions to the Jewish people. (12)

With regard to the foregoing concept, two recent examples can be cited: the North Shore Synagogue in Kings Point, New York designed by the architect Alexander Gorlin; and Herbert S. Newman & Partners’ design for the Williams College Jewish Religious Center in Williamstown, Massachusetts. (13) In the North Shore Synagogue,

light enters the sanctuary from above through strips of clerestory windows on the periphery and a large glass cube over the ark. This cube of light is fractured by two inverted triangles that evoke the Star of David but also the “emanations of the sefirot” and the breaking of vessels described by the kabbalah, the ancient Jewish mystical tradition. (14)… The window glass is lightly colored so as to allow a view out to the surrounding trees. Breaking open the corner of the space is the cubic frame of the ark inscribed by two inverted triangles (the Star of David) of translucent and clear glass. Light emerged from the square opening above and extends out to the edges of the interior of the space. Those inverted triangles reflect sound as well, as the cantor (ritual chanter) faces the ark during services and his voice reflects back into the congregation. Twelve squares represent the original number of the twelve tribes of Israel and twelve rectangle represent the diaspora of the Jewish people after the destruc tion of the temple of Jerusalem. (15)

There is certainly a correspondence between “truth” and created existence, which resides in the fact that both Judaism and Islam accept the prohibition we find in the commandment against idolatry. There is a beautiful fragment from Titus Burckhard that illustrates this admirably.

[F]or a Muslim the arabesque [geometric tessellation, inscription and floral motif] is not merely a possibility of producing art without making images; it is a direct means for dissolving images of what corresponds to them in the mental order, in the same way as the rhythmical repetition of the Koranic formulae dissolves the fixation of the mind on the object of desire. In the arabesque all suggestion of an individual form is eliminated by the indefinity of continuous weave….Thus at the sight of glittering waves or of leafage trembling in the breeze, the soul detaches itself from its internal objects, from the “idols” of passion, and plunges, vibrant within itself, into a pure state of being. (16)

The aesthetic juxtaposition of the arabesque, of numerology and of geometry, is a striking response to the proscription against representational art in Judaism and Islam. In both faiths there is an absolute prohibition against any depiction of God. Instead, the simple and abstract nature of geometric tessellation are meant “to engender a dynamic sort of contemplation.” (17) Because geometry can be found everywhere in nature and the universe, geometric order underlies the structure of all things from molecules to galaxies, and in the circumambulating of the sacred mosque at Makkah.

Geometry inspires religious architecture; it can be derived from natural and symbolic forms and from the laws of the universe–although the natural world exceeds the geometric system in complexity.

Geometry may be understood as the measuring of the earth. It is for this reason it has become inseparably related to science, art, and religion. We may speak of sacred geometry as having an inherent harmony, which is recognized as the most cogent expression of a divine plan, which underlies the world as a metaphysical pattern. This divine plan is linked to a mystical tenet “as above so below,” or that which is in the lesser world reflects that of the greater world or the macrocosm. (18)

Finally, we may also speak of sacred geometry as having an inner reality transcendent of outer form, which has remained throughout history the basis for sacred structures. A theory of correspondences underlies sacred geometry, proportions, harmonic relationships, beauty and order, forms of crystal, and natural objects. All are part of a universal continuum and a structure of created existence.

The Lamp of Power: Modalities of Time and Space

Herbert S. Newman and Partners’ design concept for Williams College’s Jewish Religious Center is based on a reflection of the way Jewish religious buildings have evolved. The Jewish Religious Center won an award from the Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art, and Architecture. The awards jury praised the building by noting that “the general shape attracts and invites.” (19)

“The interior seems consistent with Jewish liturgy, including the expanded plan for High Holy Days.” (20) The Jewish ritual, like the Muslim ritual, does not prescribe any particular architectural style. “[T]heir forms over the millennia have typically adapted traditional regional styles to the functional and ritual requirements of each congregation.” (21) The Jewish Religious Center has a decidedly New England character but I might add a very strong Moorish character as well. The octagonal dome, which is derived from the square, is one indicator of a theme that is reminiscent of Moorish aesthetics. The wooden bull ding is painted white inside and out, and given a monumental scale by the dominant vertical element of the octagonal dome.

In the design of the Moorish style synagogue in America, Jewish and non-Jewish architects quoted heavily from the influence of Medieval Spain. The Moorish style had already spread throughout Europe by architects like Gottfried Semper, Otto Simonson, and Ernst Zwirner. (22) Jewish immigrants from Europe who traveled to America in the nineteenth century apparently brought the style along with them, for example the B’nai Yeshurun designed by James K. Wilson in Cincinnati 1866 is principally composed of Moorish elements. (23) The Plum Street Synagogue was described as an “Alhambra temple with slender pillars and thirteen domes.” (24) Temple Emanu-El 1854 of Fifth Avenue and Forty-third Street in New York City, remodeled in 1868 firmly incorporated the Moorish style. (25)

Newman and Partners’ design concept departs from the Moorish themes which are applied literally in the examples mentioned above. Moreover it would seem that the design principles that nourish the design for the Williams College Jewish Religious Center, also takes into consideration the equilibrium of time and space. Trying to get dose to the core of the design another interpretation of “the chimney” could be seen as a representation of the suffering Jews faced in the concentration camps, thus the Holocaust. It is in this sense that the edifice is undisputedly an eloquent interpretation of a historical precedent.

The Lamp of Beauty: Metaphors of Light

One of the defining elements in what we have described thus far as “religious aesthetics” may well be the simulation of two modes of aesthetic reasoning: one universal and the other particular. (26) First, the aesthetic image of the universal embraces convention and origin; it expresses its own mimetic essence by asserting meaning and truth. It is self-evident in its relationship to the world and therefore, it maintains the right to exist. (27) Secondly, the particular mode of expression seeks to find its own identity in the face of obvious social and cultural realities; it is an innovative gesture, which represents innovation and change. (28)

The second mode of expression is akin to the design of the Jesuit school, Chapel of St. Ignatius, Seattle University, Seattle, Washington completed in 1997. The architect Steven Holl and associate architect Olson/Sundberg designed the edifice. The chapel is conceived as “a box containing seven bottles of light.” (29)

The “bottles” are expressed on the exterior as figural light scoops. Different qualities of light are found throughout the cavernous chapel interior: natural sunlight at the procession and narthex; yellow light in combination with a blue window (and vice versa) in the nave; orange light combined with a purple window at the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament; green light combined with a red window at the choir stall. On the exterior projecting and reflected light are found in the forecourt and pool. The highly polished dark tinted concrete floor reflects light…Holl also designed the wall scones of bubbled glass. The artificial lights can be preset at different intensities for different types of liturgical events. (30)

The opposition between the trajectories of light and that of a manmade box results from the knowledge of the physical world and the technology of architecture, as well as from a conception of nature. “Conceived as a series of distinct episodic events, the program creates a gradually unfolding progression from the secular realm to the spiritual one.” (31) Trajectories of light intervene in the building and it is the presence of light that provides the symbolic realm of the chapel. It is this sense of manmade and the natural that provides a formidable concept of beauty and an interpretation of nature.

The Chapel of St. Ignatius is a confrontation between the worlds of trajectories and processes, between being and becoming; between the repeated experience of light on the one hand and the cavernous character of the box on the other. “Although Roman Catholic, the chapel was designed to be open to people of all faiths–or no faith…one of St. Ignatius main principles was finding the good in all things.” (32) Holl describes the concept of his architecture in the following words

The passage of time; light, shadow and transparency; color phenomenon, texture, material and detail all participate in the complete experience of architecture….Only architecture can simultaneously awaken all the senses–all the complexities of perception? (33)

The Lamp of Life: Sanctuary and Pilgrimaqe

The sanctuary is a place of sacred congruence, it allows for the continuous state of being to find rest. Pilgrimage is a moving array of ritual event outside the sanctuary, it allows for the meeting of separate ways of a multiple labyrinths, to meet at one point. Together pilgrimage and sanctuary define a single experience, which allows the sojourner to partake of the disposition of both.

In 1929, Le Corbusier (1887-1965) made his soul-searching journey to the east–North Africa, the Mediterranean, Russia and India. In Istanbul he encountered for the first time the Blue Mosque and recorded his observations in his book La Voyage d’Orient? (34) His observations were recorded in his travel notebooks and would later be instrumental in his design formulation for the chapel of Notre-Dame-Du-Haut at Ronchamp (built 1953-55). For example, the Ottoman mosques, which dominated the skyline of Istanbul, weighed heavily upon his mind, and the scale of the Blue Mosque, a majestic edifice, was included in his sketches he made during his journey. Le Corbusier, confirmed his impression of the Ottoman mosques by his own remarks:

Upon the hilltops of Stambul [Istanbul] the shining white “Great Mosques” swell up and spread themselves out amid the spacious courtyards surrounded by neat tombs in lively cemeteries. The Hans [khans] make them a tight army of little domes…Stambul was burning like a demonic offering. I heard them in their poignant mysticism before Allah, such hope! And I adored everything about them: their muteness and rigid expression, their supplication to the Unknown, and the mournful credo of their beautiful prayers. Then during the moonlit evenings and black nights of Stambul my ear was filled by the swooning of their souls and those undulating recitals of all the muezzins on their minarets when they chant and call the devoted to prayer! Immense domes enclose the mystery of closed doors, minarets soar triumphantly skyward; against the whitewash of high walls dark green cypress. . .facing the mosque of Ahmed [the Blue Mosque]…. Inside each mosque they pray and chant. Having washed their mouths, faces hands, and feet, they prostrate themselves before Allah, their foreheads striking the mats; with loud laments they cry out in ritual rhythms of worship. On his rostrum overlooking the expanse of the nave, crouched, upright, and facing the ground with his hands in worshipful gesture, the imam responds to the imam of the mihrab who leads the prayer. (35)

He later translated what he saw in North Africa, the Mediterranean, Russia, and India and the observation of Muslim congregational worship in the Blue Mosque in his design of the chapel of Notre-Dame-Du-Haut at Ronchamp. The manner in which daylight enters the chapel and the impressiveness of the space undoubtedly borrows heavily from his encounter with the vernacular buildings in North Africa.

Le Corbusier located the chapel of Notre-Dame-Du-Haut at Ronchamp on the hilltop of Bourlemont in the foothills of the Vosges. The hill has been a place of pilgrimage since the fourth century, when a shrine dedicated to Mary was established there. As the ideas of procession and pilgrimage were essential to Le Corbusier’s conception of architectural space, the church had to have a nave, three ancillary chapels, an outdoor sanctuary for use on pilgrimage days, and housing for a seventeenth-century statue of the Virgin and child.

In 1955 Le Corbusier wrote “in building this chapel, I wished to create a place of silence, of prayer, of peace, of spiritual joy. A sense of what was sacred inspired our efforts.” (36)

The Lamp of Memory: Virtue, Intellect, and Science

St. Sophia, the church of Holy wisdom in Constantinople, was a novel conception and a culminating achievement of Byzantine architecture. It was a tour de force and an expression of an architectural tradition, which had originated earlier in Rome. At first Vitruvius the Roman architect of the second century A.D. defined the poetry of architecture in terms of virtue, commodity and delight. Sinan Abd al-Mannan (d. 1588) a Christian convert to Islam re-defined the aesthetic language of Christian antiquity when composing an orthogonal space with a dome for the Ottoman mosque. (37) Sinan’s aesthetic expressions were coherent with the notions of virtue, intellect, and science, but these notions were also largely related to buildings of Roman antiquity. (38) In other words, creativity in Sinan’s architecture is not simply the individual creation of an aesthetic object, but a record of properties, attitudes and decisions that enable it to be. The best example of this maxim is his transformation of the dome to create a n amalgam of architectural concepts. Sinan’s aesthetic spirit and religious aspirations can be gleaned from the declaration he makes in the following statement:

As a capable architect I wished to leave behind me

Works that would remain in this world

I prayed that God would see me worthy

To build a soaring mosque

What I had prayed for was granted, for God

In his divine wisdom allowed me to become the

Sultan’s favorite architect. (39)

Nevertheless, for Sinan the aesthetic composition did not begin or end with his geometric compositions of the dome. Muslim art in general, postulates that the work of man, no matter how innovative, is engendered in a creative context already formed and ordered by God. Sinan’s worldview was de facto shaped by Islam. His philosophical beliefs were framed by the belief that all artistic work of significant human creation is understood to be conceived in a network of relations with a world already supplied with meaning by God.

Sinan’s spatial compositions were therefore tied to an understanding of eschatology. In the formulation of his building compositions the qualities of “certain truth” becomes a kind of spatial and spiritual poetry which celebrates harmony and balance and the mimetic qualities of nature. It also seeks to demonstrate life as being intelligible, having eschatological meaning, a purpose, a beginning and an end. We see his understanding of symbolism reflected in his configuration of the Ottoman commemorative complex. The Ottoman Court built these urban complexes solely for public benefit.

The complex, a pious endowment, consists of aggregate urban buildings, which were designated for prayer, education, the care of the sick, the traveler, food, and burial. Sinan gave ordered hierarchy to mundane and sacred spaces within the enclosure of the complex, for instance his setting out of the mausoleum, mosque, madrassah, hospital, soup kitchen is therefore meaningful. Sinan’s composition of the complex demonstrated a hierarchical relationship between God and man’s earthly existence. The key element in Sinan’s composition is the religious edifice, the mosque, contiguous with the site of the mausoleum, to which he assigned a homo mundus orientation on the basis of its intended utility and man’s temporal being.

The Lamp of Obedience: Knowing and Being

In this ever-changing world of things, man is in need of relating himself to some fixed point of reference to get out of chaos into cosmos. He has ever been seeking to situate himself in space, time and the world of the spirit and the mind….In the world of the spirit and the mind, he has been looking for what is immutable within change beyond the material form of truth, having recourse to the three tributaries of knowledge, intuition and faith, philosophy and science….The revealed knowledge of the sage is now replaced with the modern analytical sciences, while the skill of the craftsman’s hand has been replaced by the machine….The architect has to remember that wisdom does not belong to a unique epoch, it belongs to all times. It is present today as it was yesterday, and can be realized by anyone who desires it and who deserves it….Nowadays the procedure and methods of design and building have changed from Sufi master craftsman to the architect-contractor system in which design and execution of the wo rk are split, and the canons of sacred art are lost. –Hassan Fathy

In 1980, the late Egyptian architect, Hassan Fathy was commissioned to design and build a masjid and prepare the master plan for a “traditional” Muslim village, Dar Al-Islam, at Abiquiu, New Mexico. The mesa site is framed by surrounding arid hills and several snow-capped mountains that are visible in the distance. Abiquiu, the Charma Valley and its immediate surrounding has a long history, which was populated before the arrival of the Spanish by several native Indian peoples. Spanish settlers arrived in 1598. The harsh environmental conditions at Abiquiu provided an ideal setting for the widespread “Los Hermanos de la Luz,” the Penitente Brotherhood, which was embraced by the Spanish settlers. (40)

The original idea was to establish an American Muslim village, the largest and most comprehensive of its kind. The Abiquiu site shares an empathic relationship with the Fathy’s theory of creativity: human orientation, inward and outward correlation of intimate spaces, and above all a natural form that blends with the landscape. Fathy’s balanced spiritual awareness of a sense of unity between building, landscape, and user imposes an intangible order on the building and the site. His reasoning for the masjid and the Abiquiu site is a re-affirmation of Nubian building traditions. Tradition in this sense invokes knowledge of the past which transcends spatio-tempo categories or labels. Architecture is a discipline that engages in place making, it engages public memory and a sense of being, it acquaints us with our temporal existence. (41)

Claude Levi-Strauss defines this relationship as “reversible space and linear time.” I believe that Fathy’s architecture is embodied in the interpretation of being and it is for this reason that it informs the question of existence and the understanding of place. What Fathy’s architecture enables us to do is to realize our nature; simply, it reminds us of the divine and pure and unadulterated sense of being, because his architecture is in harmony with the environment. In the same sense Muslim calligraphy gives us a spiritual charge, and geometric tessellation have a sense of tashbih, or the infinite reflected in that which is finite. His architecture allows us to experience the being of things as they are naturally; it is not an artificial or abstract. It is not the false consciousness, which is reflected in much of architecture today.

Fathy’s architecture helps us to experience our environment and to see its transparencies. By making us aware of God as a Necessary Being, the Prime Mover and the Supreme creator his architecture speaks to the profound meaning of existence as reflected in the way we dwell. Hence, in the mosques he has built we see that the task of the architect, like the task of all humankind in general, is to return to our origin or at least to acknowledge our origin. For when we understand our origin, we are able to return to the One, who has created us from natural clay not reinforced concrete.

Seven Lamps into Three Religions

The seven lamps are all significantly related to each other. While the design conceptions for the synagogue, the church, and the mosque may differ in the estimation of the role and meaning of sacred space, the description of each edifice suggests a number of correspondences. It is tempting to ask to what extent are these seven lamps equally valid. But a larger question remains to be answered. How are aesthetics and belief related? Is there a relationship to the work of art proper? In either case “sacred space” embodies the search for an understanding, which renders the aim and the discovery purposely significant.

The aesthetic features of the synagogue, the church, and the mosque an exceedingly rich in a symbolic sense, sometimes beyond analogy Each edifice is an actual expression of a collective desire to “congregate” to find solace and to acquire a greater understanding of the sacred and the profane.

This is perhaps what these three Abrahamic faiths have in common; they al seek to understand or explain the divine, and above all, they honor the sacred laws, which govern our existence in this world.

The events of September 11 have reminded us of the existence of the dark side as well. These evil and sinful human acts are intended to take away our humanity which God, the Almighty, the Creator of the universe has given us and with which we are endowed with the fellowship to produce beauty.

We are spiritual beings we are the noblest form of creation, we possess human virtue, truth, the capacity to decide good and evil, and we are endowed with tem perance. Good always prevails over evil and coercion will never exist if virtue is paramount. Finally, the very substance of the spiritual life–what we call religion, has been probed in this essay with an objective inquiry to discover the mythic and symbolic aspects of primordial existence. Mircea Eliade demonstrates in numerous instances that primordial man irrespective of his religious belief, reveals his deepest source of organic, natural or “primordial” life. It is a life rich in myth, imagery and symbolism.


(1.) John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture, (New York: Dover Publication, 1989).

(2.) Chapel for the the Capuchinas Sacramentarias del purisimo de Maria at Tlalpan, Mexico, see Emilio Ambasz, The Architecture of Luis Barragan, (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1976), 45.

(3.) Ibid.

(4.) Ibid.

(5.) Ibid.

(6.) Ignacio San Martin, ed. Luis Barragan: The Phoenix Papers (Tempe: Arizona State University Press, 1997). 129.

(7.) Ibid., 78.

(8.) Akel Ismail Kahera, Deconstructing the American Mosque: Space, Gender and Aesthetics, (Austin: The University of Texas Press, 2002), 61.

(9.) Ambasz, The Architecture of Luis Barragan, 105.

(10.) Lindsay Jones, The Hermeneutics of Sacred Architecture, vol.2 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), 224.

(11.) Ibid.

(12.) Ibid.

(13.) Michael J. Crosbie, Architecture for the Gods, (New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 2000) 42; 170.

(14.) Ibid, 42.

(15.) Ibid, 46.

(16.) Jones, The Hermeneutics of Sacred Architecture, 225

(17.) Ibid.

(18.) For example Ibn AI-Arabi (d. 1240) the thirteenth-century Sufi mystic proposed such a pattern in his text Futuhat AI-Makkiyah or The Makkan Revelations which speaks of the seven stages of Heaven and Hell. It was from Ibn AI-Arabi that Dante (1265-1321) appropriated the idea for his Divine Comedy in three parts, Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso.

(19.) Crosbie, Architecture for the Gods, 171.

(20.) Ibid.

(21.) Ibid., 170

(22.) Akel Ismail Kahera, “Arts III: Visual and Religious Arts,” in James Ciment ed., Encyclopaedia of American Immigration (New York: M.E. Sharpe Inc. 2001), 771-73.

(23.) Ibid.

(24.) Ibid.

(25.) Ibid.

(26.) Kahera, Deconstructing the American Mosque: Space, Gender and Aesthetics, 23.

(27.) Ibid.

(28.) Ibid.

(29.) Crosbie, Architecture for the Gods, 166.

(30.) Ibid.

(31.) Judith Dupree, Churches, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc. 2001), 152

(32.) Ibid.

(33.) Ibid.

(34.) Le Corbusier, (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret). Journey to the East, ed. Ivan Zaknic Trans. Ivan Zaknic in collaboration with Nicole Pertuiset (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987).

(35.) Ibid., 94-95

(36.) Dupree, Churches, 152

(37.) For a concise Biography on Sinan see D. Kuban, s.v. Sinan (New York: Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects, vol.4., 1982) 62-72

(38.) In the early Byzantine church such as St. Sophia a much larger space, the dome is projected is projected from symmetrically placed columns in the plan of the space. In later mosques complexes built by Sinan such as the Shezade (1543-48), Suleymane (1550-55), Selemiye (1569-72), the projection of the dome take place from symmetrically placed columns to allow for considerable increases in the diagonal span of the dome. Essentially he developed the principles of dome geometry as an aesthetic element for redefining a spatial conception of the mosque, taking it beyond what had already been established at St. Sophia.

(39.) Sai Mustafa Celebi, Mimar Sinan and Tezkiret-ul Bunyan, Metin Sozen, ed., (Turkey: MTV Publications No.1, 1989), 61.

(40.) Kahera, “Arts III: Visual and Religious Arts,” 770-71.

(41.) Ibid.

Akel Ismail Kahera is a professor of Islamic Studies, Architecture and Urbanism at the University of Texas at Austin. He recently published Deconstructing the American Mosque: Space, Gender and Aesthetics.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Association for Religion and Intellectual Life

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group