Architecture and the Afterlife

The connection among architecture, identity and religion reveals interesting insights into P-B. “Early Christian and medieval architecture and urbanism derive their emotive strength from their capacity to express in earthly materials the promise and durability of the heavenly afterlife.  The first architectural expression of the world after death was St. John the Divine’s literary description of the Heavenly Jerusalem in Revelation.”[i]

“The first monastic settlements in Egypt were no more than assemblages of hermit retreats, organized by nothing more than their proximity and their walls, which were as much to keep hermits in as to keep the evils of the world out.”[ii]  The two tendencies toward finding a way to live in the present moment that are still apparent today began to emerge in the early fourth century. Self-reliance, trusting one’s inner wisdom, was juxtapositioned with creating a sustainable spiritual community while awaiting the future Jerusalem. “Architecture was the most effective means for expressing at once the individual retreat of each hermit and the growing sense of common mission and needs which the hermits shared.”[iii]

The model of the ascetic hermit emerged in the sixth century in Ireland in which monks competed in extreme self-denial. St Benedict offered the more communal model more in harmony with the Simple Reality principle of Oneness. “Benedictine monasteries became oases of stability, order and even agricultural and economic productivity within a harsh, chaotic world.”[iv]

The worldview of the early Christian monastic communities involved unconscious choices that would lead them away from the fundamental worldview of Jesus. Instead of placing the “Heavenly Jerusalem” in the present moment (the Kingdom of Heaven in the NOW), they projected it into a future time and place. Secondly, instead of understanding that they were the repository of universal wisdom (the Kingdom of Heaven is within) they attempted to create a temporary refuge away from the profane world; a place to wait until the Second Coming.

Both of these beliefs became foundational to the Christian narrative and proved to, in effect, destroy the power of the Gospel.

Architecture and the Afterlife

[i]     Toman, Rolf [ed.]. Romanesque Architecture, Sculpture, Painting. China: H. F. Ullmann. 2007, page 118.

[ii]     Ibid.

[iii]    Ibid.

[iv]    Ibid.


Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *