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 V.
The Analytical Argument.

WE must arrive at the same conclusion, if we consider the subject in an analytical way. For example; suppose a person, hitherto unacquainted not only with the general peculiarities of Christian churches, but also with Christianity itself, were to enter a Cathedral; or (which will be a fairer case) were to visit a Catholick country, and examine its churches as a whole, would he not, if possessed of only ordinary intelligence, observe that the cross form, for example, was of most common occurrence, and, in the case of the larger buildings, was perhaps the only plan adopted? And would he not then naturally enquire why there should be this marked preference for a form, in itself inconvenient for purposes of hearing or seeing, and open to great mechanical objections, such as the almost resistless pressure of the four arms on the piers which stand at the angles of intersection? [That is, a Catholick arrangement of the church being presumed.] But if he learnt that the religion for which these temples were designed was that of the Cross, he would at once see the propriety of this ground plan, and would confidently and truly conclude that this form was chosen in order to bring the Cross, by this symbolism, vividly and constantly before the eyes of the worshippers. To deny intended symbolism, in the case of such a person, would clearly be absurd: shall it be less obvious to us? Our traveller would probably, being satisfied on this point, examine these buildings more even the Parthenon? But is not the phenomenon explained when we see in towering pier, spire, and pinnacle, the symbolical exhibition of that religion which alone aspires to things above, nay more, the figurative commemoration of that Resurrection itself, which alone originates, and only justifies, the same heavenward tendency. But if this be true; if these acknowledged peculiarities in Christian architecture be utterly unintelligible on any other supposition than this of a symbolical meaning, surely it is not unreasonable to receive so ready a solution of the difficulty: and, the principle admitted, why may not reasons of the same figurative nature be assigned for other arrangements, in themselves on any other interpretation not only meaningless but obviously useless or absurd?

Project Canterbury