Word Made Number Made Building
August 29, 2016

In his study of the Symbolism of the Christian Temple, Jean Hani offers a brief analysis of the “numerical harmonies” of the Troyes Cathedral. The main building is constructed according to ancient “golden” proportions, but this is overlaid by “a yet more mysterious [harmony] of a mystical order” (29). It's constructed according to a numerology largely based on the book of Revelation:

The height of the choir keystone, when reduced to feet and inches, as it should be, is 88 feet 8 inches. Now the number corresponding to the name of Jesus in Greek is 888. What is more, the immolated Lamb and the triumphant Christ was represented on keystones of the choir vault at this height of 88.8, and in some measures of the window where St. John writes his prophecy. The number 888 is also found around the altar (symbol of Jesus): the sanctuary is surrounded by 8 pillars and it opens out onto seven pentagonal apses representing the raying-out of the 7 churches of the Apocalypse. The Johannine Book seems to have thoroughly dominated the inspiration of this building, for the other pillars, with the exception of those of the choir, are 6 feet 6 inches tall and the vaults are supported by 66 pillars: this is related to another Apocalyptic number: 666, which is the number of the Beast . . . that the pillars should crush. We recognize a third Johannine number, 144,000, the number of the elect: in the triforium, from the chevet to the western rose window, there are 144 windows in which all those bearing the seal of the Lamb shine. Finally, the angle at the summit of the triangle traced from the keystone of the sanctuary vault to the base of the great piers measures 26 degrees; now, 26 is the number of the great Divine Name YHWH. (29-30)

Further, “At Tournus, the proportions of the oldest part of the church are based on the Hebrew name AMUN, identical to AMEN, which is a Divine Name meaning ‘faith' or ‘fidelity,' and especially applied to Christ in the Apocalypse. AMUN, or 2,296, divided by 26 (= YHWH), gives 88 + 8/26,” a number that one scholar has described as “the harmonic progression of teh name of Jesus,” that is, 888 (31).

Christian architects picked up the habit of embedding divine numbers in architecture from pagans: “the temples of Janus and Cybele were constructed according to the rules of gematria, as was the temple of Aretemis of Ephesus,” identified with Isis in late antiquity The temple of Artemis is 425 by 220 feet, and this corresponds numerologically to Isis ei is, “Thou art powerful, O Isis.” (1)

Gematria and other numerological patterns lend a cosmic significance to the cathedrals and temples; as Hani says, “the temple in itself, and before any liturgical action, is already a divine revelation” (33; his emphasis). For many ancients and medievals, the world consists of number, and the church building is “regenerated nature” and “a sanctified and consecrated cosmos,” bits of the world doing what all the world will one day do: Serve and worship the Creator.

(Photo by Piotr Tysarczyk.)

To download Theopolis Lectures, please enter your email.