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  What is Sacred Art ? Back to the List of Slideshows

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The door, or portal, of a temple or sanctuary carries in itself a powerful symbolism. There is a "symbolism inherent in the object" itself, as Schuon said. In the case at hand, the portal separates two worlds—the secular world of the street and the sacred space of the cathedral. To go through it is to cast off our mundane state of being and to be reawakened to our spiritual center. It is the task and the glory of the creator of sacred art to make sure that any symbolism superimposed on the object by the actions of his art will conform to the fundamental symbolism of the thing itself. The portal of Romanesque churches illustrates the above principle quite wonderfully. For example, by suggesting the vault of Heaven in its carved arch, it attracts us to the realm of Spirit and promises us the glory of the life to come. This symbolism supports and only deepens the fundamental symbolism of the door itself as a passage between two states.

To further explore the many dimensions possible in a single work of sacred art, we can look at Burckhardt's desription of the Royal Portal of the Cathedral of Chartres. He points out that it has three bays (of which only the central one is pictured at right), which together connect with the symbolism of the solstices (i.e., time) and the cardinal directions (i.e., space):

"…With its three bays opening towards the West, [The Royal Portal] reveals three different aspects of the Christ, and these are also aspects of the temple itself, identified as it is with the body of the Christ. The left-hand bay, situated to the North of the central bay is dedicated to the Christ ascending to Heaven; the right-hand bay, situated to the South of the central bay, is dedicated to the Virgin and to the nativity of the Christ; the central bay, the real 'Royal gate,' presents the Christ in Glory, according to the apocalyptic vision of St. John. Thus the two niches on the left and on the right, corresponding respectively to the northern and southern sides of the church, represent, in conformity with the symbolism of the solstitial "gates"—the gate of winter and the gate of summer—the celestial nature and the terrestrial nature of the Christ."

The Royal Portal of the Cathedral of Chartres, central bay

The author of the book  Sacred Art in East and West   (Fons Vitae/World Wisdom, 2001), Titus Burckhardt , wrote a beautiful and very profound book entirely on the cathedral of Chartres. It is Chartres and the Birth of the Cathedral .

In this focused study, he goes into great depth on all aspects of the great cathedral`s construction, history, and, above all, its sacred significance. There may be no better comprehensive study of a masterpiece of sacred art than this book, and it is highly recommended to all who would know more about this subject. As always with Burckhardt`s writing, information and narrative are woven together with deep spiritual insights that lend a `perfume` of the sacred subjects themselves.

In Chartres and the Birth of the Cathedral, the reader can see an illustration of the other two bays as well as the central bay that is pictured above.

Because it is flanked by two other portals of great symbolic meaning, the central bay is all the greater in its significance. Burckhardt explains that it "symbolizes for all time the one and only door, which transcends cyclical antitheses and reveals the Christ in His Divine Glory, appearing as judge of all things at the final reintegration of this `age` in the timeless."

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