Project Canterbury

The Symbolism of Churches and Church Ornaments
with an Introductory Essay, Notes, and Illustrations

By John Mason Neale and Benjamin Webb.

Leeds: T.W. Green, 1843.

Chapter XI.
General Conclusion.

It is very remarkable, as has been already observed, that the buildings of those who most strongly object to the Principle of Symbolism, do in effect contain as striking an exemplification of it as it would be possible to find.

Let us look at a Protestant place of worship. It is choked up and concealed by surrounding shops and houses, for religion, now-a-days, must give way to business and pleasure: it stands North and South, for all idea of fellow-feeling with the Church Catholick is looked on as mere trifling, or worse: the front which faces the High Street is of stone, because the uniformity of the street so required it: or, (which is more likely) of stucco, which answers as well, and is cheaper: the sides, however, are of brick, because no one can see them: there is at the entrance a large vestibule, to allow people to stand while their carriages are being called up, and to enter into conversation on the news of the day, or the merits of the preacher: it also serves the purpose of making the church warmer, and contains the doors and staircases to the galleries. On entering, the, pulpit occupies the central position, and towards it every seat is directed: for preaching is the great object of the Christian ministry: galleries run all round the building, because hearing is the great object of a Christian congregation: the Altar stands under the organ gallery, as being of no use, except once a month: there are a few free seats in out-of-the-way places, where no one could hear, and no pues would be hired, and therefore no money is lost by making the places free: and whether the few poor people who occupy them can hear or not, what matters it? The Font, a cast-iron vase on a marble pillar, stands within the Altar rails; because it there takes up no room: the reading pue is under the pulpit, and faces the congregation; because the prayers are to be read to them and not addressed to GOD. Look at this place on Sunday, or Thursday Evening. Carriages crash up through the cast-iron gates, and, amidst the wrangling and oaths of rival coachmen, deposit their loads at the portico: people come, dressed out in the full fashion of the day, to occupy their luxurious pue, to lay their smelling-bottles and prayer books on its desk, and reclining on its soft cushions, to confess themselves-if they are in time-miserable sinners: to see the poor and infirm standing in the narrow passages, and close their pue doors against them, lest themselves should be contaminated, or their cushions spoilt, at the same time beseeching GOD to give their fellow-creatures the comfort which they refuse to bestow: the Royal Arms occupy a conspicuous position; for it is a chapel of the ESTABLISHMENT: there are neat cast-iron pillars to hold up the galleries, and still neater pillars in the galleries to hold up the roof; thereby typifying that the whole existence of the building depends on the good-will of the congregation: the roof is flat, with an elegant cornice, and serves principally to support a gas-lighted chandelier: and the administration of this chapel is carried on by clerk, organist, beadle, and certain bonnetless pue-openers.

We need not point out how strongly all this symbolizes the spiritual pride, the luxury, the self-sufficiency, the bigotry of the congregations of too many A PUE-RENTED EPISCOPAL CHAPEL.

In contrast to this, let us close with a general view of the symbolism of a Catholick church.

Far away, and long ere we catch our first view of the city itself, the three spires of its Cathedral, rising high above its din and turmoil, preach to us of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity. As we approach, the Transepts, striking out cross-wise, tell of the Atonement: the Communion of Saints is set forth by the chapels clustering round Choir and Nave: the mystical weathercock bids us to watch and pray and endure hardness: the hideous forms that seem hurrying from the eaves speak the misery of those who are cast out of the church: spire, pinnacle, and finial, the upward curl of the sculptured foliage, the upward spring of the flying buttress, the sharp rise of the window arch, the high-thrown pitch of the roof, all these, overpowering the horizontal tendency of string course and parapet, teach us, that vanquishing earthly desires, we also should ascend in heart and mind. Lessons of holy wisdom are written in the delicate tracery of the windows: the unity of many members is shadowed forth by the multiplex arcade: the duty of letting our light shine before men, by the pierced and flowered parapet that crowns the whole.

We enter. The triple breadth of Nave and Aisles, the triple height of Pier arch, Triforium, and Clerestory, the triple length of Choir, Transepts, and Nave, again set forth the Holy TRINITY. And what besides is there that does not tell of our Blessed SAVIOUR? that does not point out "HIM First," in the two-fold Western door: "HIM Last," in the distant Altar: "HIM Midst," in the great Rood: "HIM Without End," in the monogram carved on boss and corbel, in the Holy Lamb, in the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, in the Mystick Fish? Close by us is the Font; for by Regeneration we enter the Church: it is deep and capacious; for we are buried in Baptism with CHRIST: it is of stone; for HE is the Rock: and its spiry cover teaches us, if we be indeed risen from its waters with HIM, to seek those things that are above. Before us, in long drawn vista are the massy Piers, which are the Apostles and Prophets: they are each of many members, for many are the graces in every Saint: there is delicate foliage round the head of all; for all were plentiful in good works. Beneath our feet are the badges of worldly pomp and glory, the charges of Kings and Nobles and Knights: all in the Presence of GOD as dross and worthlessness. Over us swells the vast 'valley' of the high pitched roof: from the crossing and interlacing of its curious rafters hang fadeless flowers and fruits which are not of earth: from its hammer-beams project wreaths and stars, such as adorn heavenly beings: in its centre stands the LAMB as It had been slain: from around HIM the celestial Host, Cherubim and Seraphim, Thrones, Principalities, and Powers, look down peacefully on the worshippers below. Harpers there are among them harping with their harps: for one is the song of the Church in earth and in Heaven. Through the walls wind the narrow cloister galleries: emblems of the path by which holy hermits and anchorets, whose conflicts were known only to their GOD, have reached their Home. And we are compassed about with a mighty cloud of witnesses: the rich deep glass of the windows teems with saintly forms, each in its own fair niche, all invested with the same holy repose: there is the glorious company of the Apostles: the goodly fellowship of the Prophets: the noble army of Martyrs: the shining band of the Confessors: the jubilant chorus of the Virgins: there are Kings, who have long since changed an earthly for an heavenly crown: and Bishops, who have given in a glad account to the Shepherd and Bishop of souls. But on none of these things do we rest; piers, arch behind arch, windows, light behind light, arcades, shaft behind shaft, the roof, bay behind bay, the Saints around us, the Heavenly Hierarchy above with dignity of pre-eminence still increasing Eastward, each and all, lead on eye and soul and thought to the Image of the Crucified Saviour as displayed in the great East window. Gazing steadfastly on that, we pass up the Nave, that is through the Church Militant, till we reach the Rood Screen, the barrier between it and the Church Triumphant, and therein shadowing forth the death of the Faithful. High above it hangs, on His Triumphal Cross, the image of HIM Who by His Death hath overcome death; on it are pourtrayed Saints and Martyrs, His warriors, who fighting under their LORD have entered into rest and inherit a tearless eternity. They are to be our examples, and the seven lamps above them typify those graces of the SPIRIT, by Whom alone we can tread in their steps. The screen itself glows with gold and crimson: with gold, for they have on their heads golden crowns; with crimson, for they passed the Red Sea of Martyrdom to obtain them. And through the delicate net work, and the unfolding Holy Doors, we catch faint glimpses of the Chancel beyond. There are the massy stalls; for in Heaven is everlasting rest: there are the sedilia, emblems of the seats of the Elders round the Throne: there is the Piscina; for they have washed their robes and made them white: and there, heart and soul and life of all, the Altar with its unquenched lights, and golden carvings, and mystick steps, and sparkling jewels: even CHRIST Himself, by Whose only Merits we find admission to our Heavenly Inheritance. Verily, as we think on the oneness of its design, we may say: Jerusalem edificatur ut civitas cujus participatio ejus in idipsum.


On concluding their work, which from circumstances that need not be specified has been a year in the press, the writers must apologize for the numerous typographical errors which have been allowed to remain. Their separation from each other, and distance from the printer, must plead in excuse.

They take this opportunity of expressing their thanks to the Reverend Dr. Mill, Christian Advocate of the University of Cambridge, and to F. A. Paley, Esq., M.A., of S. John's College, Cambridge, Honorary Secretary of the Cambridge Camden Society, for their advice and assistance.

It remains to say that some doubt has been felt by persons who have read the Introductory Essay in proofs, whether the writers have given Mr. Pugin sufficient credit for several passages in his works which seem to involve the principle now contended for. We had thought that no misapprehension could be feared on this head. It was enough to know that the principle in question, even though felt (as we indeed allowed) by this architect, had not been expressed in terms. In short, we took this fact for our ground: that whereas Mr. Pugin's book professed to assert the True Principles of Christian Architecture, yet Reality, according to his definition, was not at least so accurately a 'true principle' as Sacramentality. The principles themselves, as enunciated by Mr. Pugin, apply as well to any secular building as to a church: they are true for construction but not adequate in themselves to form a rule for ecclesiastical design.

KEMERTON, August 16, 1843.

The following very curious passage ought to have come in the Introductory Essay, but was not accessible at the time. It is an extract from the "Fardle of Facions," printed A.D. 1555.


Oratories, temples, or places of praier (whiche we calle churches) might not to be built without the good will of the Bishoppe of the Diocese. And when the timbre was redy to be framed, and the foundacion digged, it behoved them to sende for the Bishoppe, to hallowe the firste corner stone of the foundacion, and to make the signe of the Crosse thereupon, and to laie it, and directe it juste Easte and West. And then might the masons sette upon the stone, but not afore. This churche did they use to builde after the facion of a crosse, and not unlike the shape of a manne. The channcelle (in the whiche is conteined the highe Altare and the Quiere) directe fulle in the Easte, representeth the heade, and therefore ought to be somewhat rounde, and muche shorter than the body of the churche. And yet upon respect that the heade is the place for the eyes, it ought to be of morelighte, and to bee seperate with a particion, in the steade of a necke, from the bodye of the churche. This particion the Latine calleth cancelli, and out of that cometh our terme channcelle. On eche side of this channcelle peradventure (for so fitteth it beste) should stand a turret; as it were for two ears, and in these the Belles to be hanged, to calle the people to service, by daie and by night. Undre one of these turretts is there commonly a vaulte, whose doore openeth into the quiere, and in this are laid up the hallowed vesselles and orna-mentes, and other utensils of the churche. We call it a vestrie. The other parte oughte to be fitted, that having as it were on eche side an arme, the reste mave resemble the bodyewith the fete stretched in brcadthe, and in lengthe. On eche side of the boclye the pillers to stande, upon whose coronettes or heades the vaulte or rophe of the churche maye reste. And to the foote beneth aulters to be joyned. Those aulters to be orderly alway covered with two aulter clothes, and garnished with the crosse of Christe, or some little cofre of reliques. At eche ende a candelsticke, and a booke towarde the middes. The walls to be painted without and within, and diversely paineted. That they also should have in every parishe a faire round stone, made hollowe and fitte to holde water, in the whiche the water consecrate for Baptisme maye be kept for the christening of children. Upon the right hand of the highe aulter that ther should be an almorie, either cutte into the walle, or framed upon it, in the whiche they woulde have the sacrament of the Lorde's Bodye, the holy oyle for the sicke, and chrismatorie, alwaie to be locked. Furthermore they would that ther should be a pullpite in the middes of the churche, wherein the Prieste maye stonde upon Sondaies and holidays to teache the people those things that it behoveth them to knowe. The channcelle to serve only for the priestes and clerks; the rest of the temporalle multitude to be in the bodye of the churche, seperate notwithstanding, the men on the righte side, and the women on the left.

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