Prince Charles Reflects On 'Sacred Geometry'
Prince Charles' asserts that order can be restored in the world through a rediscovery of "classical knowledge" in his new book, Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World.
Examining some of the past wonders of human achievement, Charles highlights a "sacred geometry" which stands in sharp contrast to the hectic and scattered appearance of modern life. He argues that such principles are not archaic but are, in fact, highly relevant to solving many of the world's current problems.
In this exclusive excerpt, the British heir marvels at his favorite building, the Chartres Cathedral, and the seemingly perfect order of its architecture.
Chartres was begun at the start of the eleventh century. It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and Professor Critchlow suggests that the symbolism of the entire cathedral is intimately tied up with the medieval development of the cult of Mary - perhaps a renaissance, he claims, of the cult of the Greek goddess of wisdom, Sophia. I can only give a snapshot here of the remarkable scholarship he has achieved, but it is so important that the wider world sees some of what he has uncovered because it demonstrates in physical form the outlook that prevailed in the mood of thought in the Western world 1,000 years ago.
Once again the geometry of the entire building is derived from a circle. Its floor plan is contained within the proportions of a vesica. As the illustration demonstrates, the centre point of the vesica sits at the very centre of the building so that the North and South doors, seen here on the left and right, are exactly positioned. The windows also conform to this shape. The great Belle Verrière window, for example, which depicts the Madonna and Child, sits perfectly within a vesica and thus perfectly within the floor plan of the cathedral, with every significant point in the design of the window corresponding to key positions in the geometry of the rest of the building. Christ's head sits over the Madonna's heart. As Professor Critchlow has shown, the infant Christ's throat, from which the entire Christian tradition was eventually spoken, falls at the very centre of the vesica and therefore at the very heart of the building. The blue jewel in the Madonna's crown falls on the rond point of the cathedral at the end of the choir, which happens to sit immediately below a large weathervane up on the roof in the shape of Gabriel, the archangel who brought the news to Mary of Christ's incarnation. The eight stars that circle the Madonna's head, fall precisely on the eight pillars that surround the altar, and her feet rest on the columns of the doorway of the West entrance. And so the precision of this comprehensive geometry goes on.
The entrance into the building is through the West front, which comprises two soaring towers, one with the symbol of the Moon upon it and one, a significant number of feet taller, bearing the symbol of the Sun. The height of this spire matches the length of the cathedral: 365 feet. The Moon spire is 28 feet shorter, a number linked very closely to the lunar calendar. And beneath them sits one of the most spectacular of all rose windows, symbolizing the uniting of the apparent duality represented by the symbols of the Sun and the Moon. This unifying process is even built into the way the pilgrim was expected to journey around the cathedral. They would enter the building beneath the Moon, passing from the world of time into the timeless, and then progress along the left wall, reading the story of Christianity in the windows of the North side of the cathedral. There are in fact three great rose windows in the body of the cathedral and they were also intended to be read in sequence, along with all of the other layers of symbolism built into the fabric of the architecture.
For instance, there are two gateposts on the building, one on the North door and one on the South. The Northern gatepost carries a statue of St Anne, who, being the mother of Mary, is traditionally the figure in whom the Old Testament ends. After progressing through the building, following the course of Chartres's famous labyrinth with its central chamber containing twelve petals on the floor (exactly at the point, incidentally, where Christ's feet appear in the Belle Verrière window), the pilgrim would pass the Southern door, above which is the image of the fully grown Christ, enclosed within a vesica. On the gatepost of that door Christ is depicted again, carrying in his hands the book of his message to the world, his New Testament. Even here the architecture is full of symbolism. Professor Critchlow points out that the shape of the book is a Golden Rectangle and that it is angled in such a way that one corner rests on Christ's 'naval centre', as it would be described in the Indian, Vedantic tradition, while the upper corner rests on his 'heart centre'. Keith Critchlow has also calculated that this book is tilted at approximately 24 ½ º, which is both the angle at which our hearts lie within our bodies and the tilt of the Earth in relation to the solar axis.
Quite clearly not an inch of this entire building is left to chance. Every angle and position conveys symbolic meaning. The medieval Christian architects who designed such a breathtaking structure were following the teachings of the mystics of their age and created what seems to me to amount to a profound prayer to all of creation. They made a building that offers us the direct experience of what the ancients held to be our true relationship with the world. To walk around within its soaring pillars and to bask in the gentle light that pours through its exquisite windows is to experience a sense of participation in the very 'patterning' of the soul. No sense here of being a disconnected observer in a dead and mechanical universe.
I have wanted to pay such attention to the principles of the world's sacred geometry because they stand in such contrast to the predominant way in which we view the world today. I am sure many people will say that you cannot organise 'modern' life around ancient, irrelevant concepts, but the point is that the sheer elegance of a building like Chartres Cathedral and the precision of its geometry was only possible because of the rediscovery of classical knowledge which was born of a tradition of wisdom which is not time-specific and 'historic'. It is timeless and extremely relevant to the way the natural world works today - as it has always been. Nature has not changed her attitude because of fashion.
Prince Charles' new book "Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World" is available now. It is accompanied by a children's edition, "Harmony: A Vision for Our Future." Prince Charles also recorded audio versions of both books himself.