ARCHITECTURE AND SYMBOLISM : THE MANDORLA IN THE ROSEAU CATHEDRAL
By Bernard Lauwyck
The Roseau Cathedral building is full of surprises and hidden secrets.
You will appreciate that a whole lot of research is going in these articles on the Roseau Cathedral. This present article is very special to me as I made a real discovery.
Years ago I purchased some books on the beautiful Gothic Cathedral of Chartres, which I wanted to visit in 2006. One of them titled “Chartres: Sacred Geometry, Sacred Space” written by Gordon Strachan, who taught in the department of Architecture and also Religious Studies at the University of Edinburgh.
The MANDORLA, as an architectural shape to set out a Catholic Cathedral floor plan, was revealed to me in this book. This is very old Christian symbolism, which I am about to reveal to you in our Roseau Cathedral.
“Symbols of the Christian Faith” describe the mandorla as an almond-shaped aureole or halo that symbolizes the glory surrounding the figures of the Virgin Mary, the Trinity, and Christ in Majesty. The mandorla was especially used in icons and depictions of the Transfiguration of the Lord and the Assumption of Mary.
The MANDORLA is an unique Christian symbol, being the intersection between two circles whose circumferences passed through each other’s centres.
It became known as the VESICA PISCIS, the womb of the fish, Christianity’s main symbol during the early church period. The cross or crucifix was only adopted after 313AD ,with Roman emperor Constantine’s acceptance and legalisation of Christianity.
The fish , ICHTHUS or ΙΧΘΥΣ in Greek, being Jesus Christ, God, Son, Saviour
C hristos = Christ
T heou = God
U ios = son
S oter = Saviour
The Oneness of God could only be architecturally expressed as a CUBE. “the perfection of Oneness because it has the ration of 1:1:1.”
The diagonal of a cube with the side length as1 is the square root of three : √3. This proportion 1 over √3 , as derived of the cube (God is One) and the Vesica Piscis provide us with the width and length of the mandorla shape as used in Christian imagery and also in sacred geometry on the floor plan of Chartres Cathedral in France.
My curiosity was awakened. Would the same 1 over √3 sacred geometry called “ad triangulum” have been used in our Roseau Cathedral ? This Roseau church building that has been started, stopped, changed, built, stopped, completed, expanded and finally completed to what it is now, over so many years as we will see in a subsequent article.
And INDEED SO IT WAS!
As we have at our disposal a recent electronic surveyed Roseau Cathedral floor plan “AS IS” on AutoCAD, which was used to design the new roof, we have now accurate measurements and distances between walls and columns. The results of my research have been verified by architect Mr. Bergis STOUTE and can be verified by any architect, as is presented below.
In medieval art Jesus was often depicted above the Cathedral entrance doors, seated in Majesty in the Vesica Pisces, mediating between the two circles symbolising God and man.
In our Cathedral, dedicated to THE VIRGIN MARY (the womb of the FISH) and with Her Assumption as Parish feast, the architecture has all the more meaning.
But the image below will make the meaning more visual and meaningful. An image is a portal to a deep spiritual meaning ! See the Mandorla of “MARY and CHRIST sitting IN MAJESTY” transposed on the sacred geometry of the Roseau Cathedral.
Since the beginning of time, mankind has used a beautiful language to reveal the deeper mysteries and higher aspirations of life. This language is called the language of the sign and symbol.
In his apostolic exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis”, Pope Benedict XVI pleads for catechesis or instructions concerned with the meaning of signs : “ This is particularly important in a highly technological age like our own, which risks losing the ability to appreciate signs and symbols” end quote.
It is in this act of my sharing the signs and symbols with you (“ treasures and hidden secrets”) of our Roseau Cathedral that I hope you will come to appreciate the spiritual meaning behind the objects and building .