The Anatomy of a Church - Part 2
by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1998
Let us now concentrate on the female symbolism that we find in church architecture. Much of our themes which we presently use to design sacred edifices are based on what we have learned from our "Gothic" progenitors. Though there have been various phases in history when certain styles of architecture have prevailed, but in most of them there have been some standard themes that have been used which have been perpetuated from time immemorial. Without doubt, some of our ecclesiastical designs in our buildings have motifs that reach back to the early classical periods. And recall what Vitruvius said (who lived at the time of Augustus, near the period of Jesus' birth). He made it clear that architects in the classical periods used human body parts as their principal standards and benchmarks as designs with which they constructed their sacred buildings, especially temples and shrines. The "Gothic" is a prime example of this. Vitruvius gives a further account to show the relationship.
"In like fashion, the parts of temples ought to have dimensions of their several parts answering suitably to the general sum of their whole magnitude. Now the navel [Latin: umbilicus] is naturally in the exact center of the body. For if a man lies on his back with hands and feet outspread, and the center of a circle is place on his navel, his figure and toes will be touched by the circumference. Also a square will be found described within a figure, in the same way as a round figure is produced. For if we measure from the sole of the foot to the top of the head, and apply the measure to the outstretched hands, the breadth will be found equal to the height, just like sites [of temples] which are squared by rule" (ibid., Book III.ch. 1 ,sect.3).
Look carefully at this architectural illustration of Vitruvius. He was giving a principle of constructing temples that showed the navel of a human body representing the center part of a temple. Vitruvius said: "Now the navel is naturally the exact center of the body. For if a man lies on his back with his hands and feet outspread, and the center of a circle is placed on his navel, his figure and toes will be touched by the circumference." This, of course, is true. Now let us use this object lesson of Vitruvius and apply it to the human female. If a woman lies on her back in such a posture as Vitruvius mentioned, and then lifts her knees to be perpendicular to her body, her legs will obviously be elevated above her body as two projections. Such a position, I am told, is the common one that women assume when they are given a pelvic exam by a medical doctor. The genitalia will be given full view. Transferring this posture to an architectural application in regard to building a sacred temple, as Vitruvius would use it, the temple of the illustration would reveal two elevated towers with an entrance to a temple between the towers at their base. Imagine such a building for a moment. Such a scene is not unlike prime Gothic cathedrals having two spires on each side of an entrance leading into the sacred precincts. Note examples below
With such an architectural posture in mind, we are now ready to carry the symbolism of the human body (in this case, the female body) into the heart of Christian architectural themes that were used near the period of the Crusades when Gothic [barbaric] designs were becoming popular.
Early Irish Churches Blatantly Show Female Genitalia
The Christian men in Ireland who were in authority over their flocks had churches built in order to perform the liturgies and rituals associated with their sacred duties. And what did the church authorities place at the entrances to many of their churches just before and after the time of the Crusades? In full view of the congregations that attended the various Catholic Churches then in Ireland, the priests and monks placed a statue carved out of stone (usually) showing a squatting woman with her legs apart and the genitalia of the woman held open with her hands. Such images were widespread in Ireland and each one was known as a Shiela-Na-Gig (probably meaning, the "Woman of the Vulva"). This naked woman was prominently displayed for all the churchgoers at the keystone spot of an arched doorway leading into the church (or sometimes over a pointed arch of a window that was also apart of the church).
It may be difficult for us of modern times to believe that such things happened in a Catholic Christian environment, but the fact is, they did indeed take place. In the prestigious "Encyclopedia of Religion," edited by Mercia Eliade and published by Macmillian Publishing Company for the University of Chicago, there are references to these Sheila-Na-Gigs (sometimes spelled Sheelagh-na-gig). Notice what the encyclopedia tells us about them.
"Aside from the transformative religious mysteries of sacrifice and initiation, the obvious life-giving and growth-promoting powers of the vulva and its secretions have given rise to a widespread use of representations of the female genitalia as apotropaic devices. The custom of plowing a furrow for magical protection around a town was practiced all over Europe by peasants. It was still observed in the twentieth century in Russia, where villages were thus annually 'purified.' The practice was exclusively carried out by women, who, while plowing, called on the moon goddess. A similar apotropaic function seems to have prompted the placing of squatting female figures prominently exposing their open vulvas on the key of arches at church entrances in Ireland, Great Britain, and German Switzerland. In Ireland these figures are called Sheelagh-na-gigs. Some of these figures represent emaciated old women. These images are illustrations of myths concerning the territorial Celtic goddess who was the granter of royalty. When the goddess wished to test the king-elect, she came to him in the form of an old hag, soliciting sexual intercourse. If the king-elect accepted, she transformed herself into a radiantly beautiful young woman and conferred on him royalty and blessed his reign. Most such figures were removed from churches in the nineteenth century.
And a little farther down in the same article:
"A remarkable parallel to the Celtic Sheelagh-na-gig is found in the Palauan archipelago. The wooden figure of a nude woman, prominently exposing her vulva by sitting with legs wide apart and extended to either side of the body, is placed on the eastern gable of each village's chiefly meeting house. Such figures are called dilugai. Interestingly, the yoni [the female genitalia] is in the shape of a cleft downward-pointing triangle. These female figures protect the villagers' health and ward off all evil spirits as well. They are constructed by ritual specialists according to strict rules, which if broken would result in the specialist's as well as the chiefs death. It is not coincidental that each example of signs representing the female genitalia used as apotropaic devices are found on gates. The vulva is the primordial gate, the mysterious divide between nonlife and life" (Encyclopedia of Religion, article YONI, Vol.15, p.534).
There is a great deal of information about these Sheila-Na-Gigs that were found in many places in Ireland (until the Protestant Reformation when many of them were destroyed by the reformers) and in various places of Northern Europe within Christian times (indeed, these images were found in the most prominent places carved on Catholic Christian churches). They were even found on Cathedrals (the seat of a bishopric). The highest authorities in the Christian Church allowed them to exist at the time.
In the famous "Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics," edited by James Hastings, we read the following.
"Nor are such female effigies confined to the pagan natives of tropical wilds. They were frequently carved on churches in the Middle Ages. Many have been preserved until recently in Ireland, as, e.g. on a doorway of Cloyne Cathedral, Co. Cork. The Royal Irish Academy in Dublin possesses a very good specimen removed from a church. They are known to Irish antiquaries by the name Sheila-Na-Gig. Most of them, however, have now been destroyed" (vol. IX, p.8~7).
Barbara Walker in her book "The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects," states under the subject Sheila-Na-Gig:
"Female figures prominently displaying the yoni [female genitalia] as a vesica piscus [Mandorla] were once common ornaments of Irish churches built before the sixteenth century. As a rule the sheila-na-gig was carved into the keystone of a window or doorway arch. Undoubtedly it was a protective sign left over from pre-Christian Goddess worship. Figures of the same type were found throughout Europe as cathedral decorations, on the capitals of columns, at the ends of ceiling beams, and so forth. Squatting Goddess figures almost identical to the Sheila-Na-Gig guarded the doors of temples in India" (p.104).
It should be recalled that the depiction of these women blatantly showing their genitalia in the most prominent places of a Cathedral or church were sanctioned and ordained by the Christian ecclesiastical authorities with the approval and approbation of the papacy in Rome (after all, some of them were found on churches as late as the nineteenth century). A few of these images approved by the priests and monks are shown below. These few represent the hundreds that must have existed on other churches.
PLATE VI (Shelah-Na-Gig Monuments)
PLATE VII (VENUS OF THE VANDALS, BRONZE AND LEAD IMAGES, AND CAPITAL OF A COLUMN)
Many symbols and signs on churches and cathedrals in Europe were not as blatant as the Sheila-Na-Gigs, but the so-called benign symbols that the female and male genitalia represented only the initiated into the "church mysteries" would know what they meant. Many windows were given various designs that to the uninitiated looked like pretty decorations to make the church appear attractive to the eye. Yes, it did that, but the architects ofTen had much more in mind when they painted (or constructed) their rose windows or carvings in walls, on columns, at the top of columns, or at the end of beams. As a point in fact, at the Church of San Fedele in France there were discovered some medals dating from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries that had on one side the "benign" symbol in the form of a cross with other decorations with what the symbol actually entailed on the reverse side (which was a phallic symbol). Some signs were "male" and others were "female" and were identified by the respective genitalia found on the reverse side. The Plate IX below was taken from the book "A History of Phallic Worship," by Thomas Wright and published as a reprint by Dorset Press, 1992.
PLATE IX (ORNAMENTS FROM THE CHURCH OF SAN FEDELE
So, the next time you want to admire the decorations that are found in many of our modern churches (who often copied from early Gothic progenitors), look closely at the various designs of the crosses in the quatrefoils in the tracery windows. You will see that some of them are very similar in design (if not identical) with the medals from the Church of San Fedele shown above. And too, many churches today have lancet shaped windows (with their pointed arches) as their basic window designs. When you know what they actually mean to the initiated (without the outward ambiguity), you may be shocked at what you find displayed within those "beautiful ornaments of sacred art, that adorn even the quaint little "churches in the vale." Notice the medals shown above that depict on the obverse the female genitalia. The artists idealize the shape of the external genitalia by making what is called an "almond shaped" design that is called in symbolic language a Mandorla (which means "like an almond"). The same shape of genitalia (the Mandorla) was found in the majority of the Sheila-Na-Gigs that were carved on the top of doorways (usually at the pinnacle of a pointed or lancet arch) in the early churches and on some Cathedrals. This symbol of the Mandorla is a very much used in Christian art. Most of us have seen it at one time or another, but most people have not the slightest idea what it signifies. It is a woman's vulva. The illustration below shows how Barbara G. Walker in her excellent book "The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets" describes this well known symbol called the Mandorla.
|Mandorla "Almond," the pointed-oval sign of the yoni, used in Oriental art to signify the divine female genital; also called vesic~ piscis, the Vessel of the Fish. Almonds were holy symbols because of their female, yonic connotations. Almonds had the power of virgin motherhood, as shown by the myth of Nana, who conceived the god Attis with her own almond.' The candlestick of the Jews' tabernacle of the Ark was decorated with almonds for their fertility magic (Exodus 25:33-34). Christian art similarly used the mandorla as a flame for figures of God, Jesus, and saints, because the artists forgot what it formerly meant. I. Frazer, G.B., 403,|
You will often see Mary and/or the supposed "Jesus" within a glorified Mandorla symbol. Note the following examples
Now note this. If you will cut the Mandorla in half; you will see that the two sections (if turned upward) resemble the famous pointed arch that we see in profusion in all of Gothic architecture. It is also the most used form for windows (such as lancet windows) that we see in churches today. In fact, it is common for us, when we see windows or doorways that have the pointed arch (which is the top part of the Mandorla sign) to say that is ecclesiastical or church-type of architecture. Even the little "church in the dale" is most often shown with doorways and windows with the pointed type of arch. As said before, this is simply a modified Mandorla symbol and it represents the external female genitalia.
This fact can be shown in a most remarkable way once we understand the medieval attitude toward rendering the Christian Church into the shape of a stone, wooden and metal building. This especially applies to that architectural frame of mind which used Gothic motifs to enshroud the clear meanings of their parts of a church with symbolic teachings that only the initiated would understand. We can see how the female genitalia (as well as the male) were used extensively in various ways to show that the "Church" was indeed a reckoned as a woman that would bear children for God and Christ who were in heaven. And though in some areas (and even on some Cathedrals) the Sheila-Na-Gigs were placed in full and blatant display of the female genitalia (to remind people they were going "inside" the Woman, the Church, in order to find "life" and regeneration), in most cases the architects used the esoteric motifs with ambiguous themes or displays that the uninitiated would not understand.
The Three Divisions of the Medieval Christian Church
In the Middle Ages it was common to say that there were three divisions to the Christian Church. There was the "Church Triumphant" (those saints and holy people who are already in heaven because of their righteous lives), the "Church Militant" (those saints who were then living on earth and had not yet attained fill glory), and the "Church Suffering" (those saints who were not righteous enough to go to heaven at death but were still suffering in Purgatory until they could be cleansed of their sins and then they could enter the heavenly realm). Each Gothic Church showed these three divisions. The steeples (spires) that reached toward heaven designated the "Church Triumphant. The ground level of the Church showed the present "Church Militant" (representing members who are now in the flesh and warring against sin). Also, ideally under every Gothic Church (and occupying the same dimensions of the ground level Church) was a lower section known as the Crypt where the dead of the parish (or famous people) were buried. This lower section was tantamount to the "Church Suffering" (or, the area of Purgatory). The dead who were in Purgatory were still reckoned as living "members" though they were being cleansed in Purgatory. This nether world section was viewed as being like a mirage or ghost-like.
Even our word "Crypt" (which identifies the area) gives a negative or illusionary aspect. The area was thought to be an ethereal region viewed as a mirror-like reflection of the upper level for the "Church Militant." But things in the underworld were "turned upside down" (or were negative) to what we experience in our normal human lives in the flesh. This mirror-like aspect of representing the Crypt was like looking in a mirror and seeing an image, but the image could not be touched because the glass of the mirror came in the way. This mirror effect helped to explain the Church's doctrinal teaching of Purgatory. The Church inherited this erroneous belief in Purgatory from pagan teachings of the past.
"The Greek settlers in southern Italy considered some wild and eerie regions as parts of the underworld existing on the surface of the earth... The hereafter [after one dies] is conceived as a mirror image of the world of the living, the difference is not as great as it may seem. Things may be reversed, left and right, up and down, the cycle of the seasons may have changed places, but the general principles remain the same" (The Encyclopedia of Religion, vol.1, p.118, boldness is my emphasis).
Now, if there was a standing pool of water surrounding a church where the mirror-image of the church could be seen (or imagined), the church in the lower image would be upside down and fit into the realm of being illusionary or ghost-like. This is how Purgatory was conceived. The Crypt represented the underworld or the "Church Suffering." Notice how this would appear as a mirror reflection. Look at the example of Notre Dame on the Seine River in Paris.
When you witness the whole Church (including the mirror image of Purgatory, that is, the "Church suffering"), we see three Mandorla shaped entrances to the Church (in this case, Notre Dame). The middle entrance is symbolically the one to the "Church Militant," the right is into the "Church Triumphant," and the left is into the "Church Suffering." The central entrance was the most for those then living on earth. It was the main entrance with a Mandorla shape (when the mirror image representing Purgatory or the Crypt was being imagined) and at the top of the pointed arch (representing the place of the clitoris) is where the Sheila-Na-Gigs were placed in the blatant rendition of what the symbol was teaching. Most ecclesiastical leaders, as time went on, took down the obvious Sheila-Na-Gigs, but they left all the other signs of the male and female genitalia still in place for all the initiated to remember. And when we today see the "little church in the dale," we observe the early sexual themes of the ancient pagans brazenly displayed (though in symbol form) for all to witness. God and Christ have to look down to see Christians today worshipping in modem churches (Circes). They observe Christians worshipping God after entering the symbolic vulvas of their churches.
In closing, let me give you a present day scenario by using an example of an event of the past mentioned in the Old Testament. When God today calls a council in heaven of His Sons with all the angels and including Satan the Devil, they all have a dialogue with one another. This is just like when Satan came to God's heavenly council in the time of Job (like in Job 1:6-12 and 2:1-6). God no doubt still asks Satan where has he been. Satan would tell God he had been going throughout the earth. God would then ask Satan if he noticed the humans on earth who were His sons and daughters? Satan would then answer God.
"Yes, I have been witnessing the people you call your so-called sons and daughters and they are so ignorant and stupid that I have got them into worshipping you in the most disgusting ways imaginable. I have them all meeting in "churches" which are named after the Great Whore of Revelation. I have them assembling where they can find upright and erect penises over their churches. And when they go into their churches through the female vulva of their churches and sit in pews, I have them placing Zeus with his long-hair in a prominent position and I get them to call this image of Zeus by the name of "Jesus".
"I also have your Christian folk teaching the doctrine of the Immortality of the Soul which you have stated in the Bible is wrong. I also have them worshipping you with the false doctrine of the Trinity. I have them congregating on the pagan days of the ancient world which they now call Easter and Christmas (with other heathen days and customs they now call "Christian festivals") when you have said not to learn the way of the heathen (Jeremiah 10:1-5). I have given them religious ceremonies that they call Christian worship that originated with the pagans that you have always condemned and told them not to use. I have them also reading from their Bibles with an order of the biblical books completely opposite to your original manuscript design which came from the apostles and this false design brings them into utter confusion in understanding true biblical doctrines. That is what I have got your sons and daughters to do who are supposed to be members of your divine Family. I have done this deceit while your sons and daughters believe that my deceptions are righteous, holy and good. God, you have let me do it, and I believe I have done a jolly good job."
After hearing Satan's report from earth, God would answer Satan and admit that he has indeed deceived the world.
But God would then remind Satan that there is a remnant of God's people who know better and eschews such evil, and that He is soon to give them the power to reveal the truth of these religious corruptions to the whole world. The reason God would tell Satan of this coming change in society is because it is prophesied in the Bible. For us there is hope. Indeed, God and Christ have called you and me to know this truth beforehand. He has selected us to help pave the way for this new reformation. Though Satan has been highly successful in the world, there is another side of the coin. We are just now coming into that time prophesied in the Bible when the whole truth of God is going to be given to this world. There is hope (real hope) for God's people because God is about to lift the veil of deception that He has placed on the world (Isaiah 29:13-24).
God is now telling us that His true knowledge will soon sweep this world (Daniel 12:4,9; Acts 3:19-21). And in fact, God is calling you and me to give us this advance understanding in order that we can teach God's truth to the world. He is opening the doors for us, and I hope that all of us will walk through those open doors. And what is God's promise to you and me now that this knowledge is being made known to us? The Bible says this: "The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly" (Romans 16:20).
Ernest L. Martin
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