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Record Type: Review   ID: 110

Spiritual Path, Sacred Place: Myth, Ritual, and Meaning in Architecture

Barrie, Thomas

 Barrie is both a practicing architect and a professor of architecture, and he writes about sacred architecture, which he defines as "places built to symbolize the meanings and accommodate the rituals of the particular belief system of its time" (p. 1). He characterizes the book as "a comparative study of how sacred space is formed and entered, documented by architectural examples from many different religions, locations, and historical settings. ...it intends to establish correspondence between the religious and the cultural setting, arguing that sacred architecture often symbolizes the spiritual path and its goal" (p. 1). He points out that "the Way, the spiritual path, the sacred journey" describe not only a spiritual and psychological setting but a physical one as well. Thus he attempts to show that "sacred architecture often provided a detailed ‘symbol posted’ way to spiritual transformation," and he tries to illustrate this with specific examples in chapter 6. The first chapter provides an introductory overview. The second is about "symbols, structures, and rituals," and includes archetypes, the hero’s journey, and pilgrimage. The third chapter is on "elements and experience" in architectural theory. In chapter 4 he discusses "the Sacred Path and Place," including meaning and place, the place of creation, axis mundi etc., the celestial city, sacred geometry, and ritual settings. The fifth chapter describes the sacred use that can be made. Six types of paths: the axial, split, radial, grid, circumambulating, and segmented. The selected sites in chapter 6 are the Temple of Amun-Re; the Temple of Apollo; Koto-in Xen Temple, Daitoku-ji Monastery; the Cathedral of Sainte-Madeleine; and the Brion-Vega Cemetery. The final chapter, Arrival, is a kind of archetypal description of the elements common to many forms of sacred architecture. He criticizes modern architecture for its failure to provide "a meaningful sense of place and an articulated path to attain it—paths and places that perhaps lead us to a better understanding of who we are" (p. 260). This is a not a travelogue, though anyone planning to visit or even who has visited any of the 6 sites he describes should read what he has to say about them. This is basically a serious, scholarly, solid work on sacred architecture that can serve as a handbook for aspiring architects and for pilgrims of a scholarly bent.
Publisher Information:Boston: Shambhala, 1996. 284p. Bibl: 273-278; 37 figs; 107 illus; Index: 279-284
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