Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe
SACRED or holy places are found in different cultures, past and present, all
over the world. Such places are frequently marked or embellished by
architectural structures and art.
One of my aims is to explore how and why places become invested with
sacredness. In most cases, it can be shown that the sacredness of a place is
linked in some way to natural objects and features such trees, stones, water,
mountains, caves, and forms in the landscape. It can further be shown that
these natural objects and forms lie at the root of the forms and shapes
employed to mark or embellish a sacred site.
These same sacred forms and shapes derived from natural objects and features
become symbolic or emblematic of the sacred or divine. When they are
articulated in art and architecture, they become not only the 'abode' of the
divine, but also serve as a means to entice the divine either to continue to
reside at a given place or to take up residence at a new site.
Although the sacred places are often rich in aesthetic experience, I am more
interested in the origins, meaning and function of the sacred objects, forms,
symbols, and shapes that compose the art and architecture of a sacred place.
It is through the art and architecture that the sacred or the divine is
manifest or represented.
The philosopher Plotinus (205-270 CE) explained it
this way [Enneads, IV, 3. 11]:
Those ancient sages who fought to secure the presence of divine beings by
the erection of shrines and statues, showed insight into the nature of the
All; they perceived that, though the Soul is everywhere traceable, its
presence will be secured all the more readily when an appropriate receptacle
is elaborated, a place especially capable of receiving some portion or phase
of it, something reproducing it, or representing it and serving like a
mirror to catch an image of it.
The Sacred Cave
Stones and the Sacred
Mountains and the Sacred
Trees and the Sacred
Water and the Sacred
Forms in the Landscape