Text: Colin Ball

05. Oct 2010

Sacred light, secular light

And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.
(The gospel according to John: chapter 3: verse 19-21)

We are all very familiar with the fundamental concept that Light = Good, Dark = Bad. It therefore follows that to be “in the Light” is to be: Good, Inspired, Holy etc. When we think of religion it appears very straightforward that the lighting of a candle is a highly symbolic act of spirituality, of meditation that brings one closer to a sense of communion with that ‘otherness’ which many define as God. The space in which that candle is lit is very different in many parts of the world. Before one gets to the candle, one is either: pulled towards the light, immersed in light, or plunged into darkness in order to find it, and/or appreciate it, once it arrives. This article aims to look at these differences of the sites of worship for the four main religions that have shaped world architecture and history: Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, and how their beliefs have moulded our societies and our attitude to light. In our modern society where religion is no longer the sole motivating force that drives our communities, does our own architecture and attitude to light reveal how we now approach what is sacred to us? I start with an apology. The nature of the subject spans 3000 years and involves many cultures and their beliefs. I consciously tread very lightly within each subject. The aim here is to demonstrate the pattern between each of the subjects, without getting too lost within the details of each. As a lecture I have the ability to show over 400 examples to demonstrate this pattern. In text, I can use just a few. Have you ever visited a mosque, either in prayer or just viewing the architecture? It took me many years to work out why the grand Mosquesin Istanbul ‘felt’ different to what I was accustomed to as sacred space within the Cathedrals of Britain. Sinan was building the Suleymaniye mosque within decades of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, yet the former is nearly identical to Hagia Sophia, built one thousand years earlier. […]
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The full version of the article can be found in PLD No. 73

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