Sunday, July 22, 2007
They look on one who is pierced
My own efforts to give a shape to an Indian Christian iconography has been based on this search for the archetypal, especially in the search for spiritual wholeness which is found in the typology of the Icons, but also in the tradition of the Hindu and Buddhist mandala. Mandala structures underlie the symbolic symbols which we find in the Gospel of St. John, where sacred geometry, and number symbolism is very important, as it was also in the Eastern tradition. In this connection the Pythagorean and Orphic schools which played an important part in shaping the symbolic systems of the Gnostics, probably drew a number of their ideas from ancient Asian symbol systems, linked to Buddhist and even Jaina monastic schools.
A very important symbolic form which cane to have a very particular significance in early Christian iconography was that of the mandorla, or almond shaped form which is created geometrically by the intersection of two arcs, giving rise to a seed or flame like image. This form is found in nature, in the shape of petals, the fish, and even the eye. It was particularly favored by the Orphic schools, which saw in it a symbol of life, and even the opening into the womb. Essentially this form, which looks like a wound, is the original heart mandala. The modern Italian artist Lucio Fontana has explored the aesthetics of this spear-like incision that has a very dynamic import. The mandorla was used as the halo of light around the Transfigured Lord, and we find it in the Tympanum structure over the door of many western Gothic Cathedrals, as for example at Chartres. In fact the characteristic Gothic lance like window, uses the geometry of this pointed arch, which was known earlier to Islamic architects, and was introduced into the West after the Crusades, which resulted in many interesting new forms that came from the meeting of cultures, East and West.