Urban Order as Means to Paradisiacal Order; Eden, Jerusalem and London (27/01/2018)

This paper will explore the ways in which the cosmic order of creation was understood through the practice of sacred geometry for millennia and was defined in the Western world as the elements and qualities of...

Urban Order as Means to Paradisiacal Order; Eden, Jerusalem and London

Steve Padget, AIA, LEED AP, Assoc. Prof.

Key Terms: Sacred Geometry, Cosmic Order, Axis Mundi, Tree of Life, Garden of Eden, Jerusalem, Temple of Solomon, Castrum , Cartesian Grid, New Jerusalem
Abstract: This paper will explore the ways in which the cosmic order of creation was understood through the practice of sacred geometry for millennia and was defined in the Western world as the elements and qualities of paradise: bound- ed-ness, centered-ness, measured-ness and aspiring to connect heaven and earth by way of an axis mundi/tree/mountain. This paper intends to demonstrate the ways in which the same paradisiacal ordering principles were used in Western urban centers for thousands of years – and even in the midst of the ‘scientific rev- olution’. This paradisiacal ordering was in the service of (in Merton’s terms) “ ... meaning, order, truth and salvation.”

In the Abrahamic tradition, God created the world.
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness ... 6 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to sepa- rate water from water.” 7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the vault “sky.” ... 9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good. (Bible, NIV, Gen. 1:1-10)

FIG. 1 – God as Geometer

By the late Medieval Age, God was depicted as the first Geometer. As seen in the illustration (FIG. 1) above, He fixes the Center of the World with His compass and creates Cosmos from Chaos by the making of a boundary circle. This act establishes fundamental dualities between inside/outside, formed/unformed, light/dark, etc. Many human cultures, in their attempts to make their places connected to the cosmic order, repeat this act as a foundational ritual. This paper will describe examples of the use of this foundational ritual and its geometric elements and relationships.
Paradisiacal Order on Earth
God created Eden (the original paradisiacal garden).
9 ... In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. (Bible, NIV, Gen. 2:9-11)
Eden includes a boundary wall (inside order differentiated from outside undifferen- tiated space or chaos), is centered, is measured (divided by the source water that divides into four rivers) and contains an axis mundi at its center - the tree(s). This perfect order is established on the horizontal plane of the earth in the form of the circle divided by the four rivers emanating to the four cardinal directions from the center. At this center is a vertical axis that acts to connect earth to heaven. This is the archetypal paradisiacal order as found in numerous diagrams (FIG. 2 & FIG. 3)

FIG. 2 Medieval image of Eden                                                 FIG. 3 18thC Map of Eden

depicting Eden throughout history. In the Eden story, once Adam and Eve exert their personal will over the will of God and eat the fruit of the tree, they are banished – out of the perfect order of paradise. This paradise is a fixed point (or center) on Earth, itself a center of the universe. It is, like the original creative act, a product of differentiation.
Many traditions share elements of the Eden story in their creation myths, suggesting that it constitutes a cross-cultural archetype. Mircea Eliade identifies a similar set of characteristics for the establishment of a sacred (or paradisiacal) space in traditional cul- tures:
“ ... we have a ... ‘system of the world’ prevalent in traditional societies: (a) a sacred place constitutes a break in the homogeneity of space; (b) this break is symbolized by an opening by which passage from one cosmic region to another is made possible (from heaven to earth and vice versa; from earth to the underworld); (c) communication to heaven is ex- pressed by one or another of certain images, all of which refer to the axis mundi: pillar ... , ladder ... , mountain, tree, vine, etc.; (d) around this cosmic axis lies the world (= our world), hence the axis is located ‘in the middle’, and the ‘navel of the earth’; it is the Center of the World. (Eliade, 1987, p. 37)
It is arguable that one of mankind’s traditional ob- jectives has been to restore this archetypal order on earth – to reconstruct paradise and thus to regain a harmonic relationship with the Divine. In many tra- ditional cultures, the making of a place starts with the driving of a stake in the ground (axis mundi). This center point is used for the drawing of a boundary circle in the earth, thus establishing a sacred pre- cinct. It is interesting to note that in some cultures this staking out of the center is referred to as sym- bolically “staking the snake” – thus ‘fixing’ the chaos of this world. Eliade offers the following foundation ritual from India,
“The astrologer shows what spot in the foundation is exactly above the head of the snake that supports the world. The mason ... drives a peg into the ground at this spot in such a way as to peg the snake se- curely down ... A foundation stone is placed above the peg. The cornerstone is thus situated exactly at the ‘center of the world’. But the act of foundation at the same time repeats the cosmogonic act ... of Indra (who) ‘smote the Serpent (Vrtra) in his lair’.” (Eliade, 1985, pg. 19)
According to Walter Burkert (1983), the following describes the making of a sacred place in an early Greek sacrifice ritual,
“The participants ... go singing in procession to the place of sacrifice. ... The event itself takes place be- fore an altar stone, ... The participants draw a circle around themselves in the earth. The area enclosed becomes a sacred precinct. ... All wash their hands, and the (animal) victim is sprinkled. ... he (priest) slits the victim’s throat ... the women scream ... ac- knowledging that the god has come into their presence. ... The animal is then carefully carved up ... Then certain parts ... are roasted and eaten.” (quot- ed in Hersey, 1998, pp. 15, 16)
In these foundation rituals, fixity at a center and a boundary separating the sacred, ordered space from the relatively undifferentiated chaos outside the boundary were established. This not only provid- ed people with an ordered space, but connected them to the creator by repeating a ritualized version of the original act of creation.
“...the act of the Creation realizes the passage from the nonmanifest to the manifest or, to speak cosmologically, from chaos to cosmos... 1. Every creation repeats the pre-eminent cosmogonic act, the Creation of the world. 2. Consequently, what- ever is founded has its foundation at the center of the world (since, as we know, the Creation itself took place from a center).” (Eliade, 1985, p. 18)
For one nomadic people, the establishment of a
sacred place was not accomplished by way of a permanent, geographically fixed center. Instead, a portable “Axis Mundi” was carried to serve to bring the influence of heavenly order to earth wherever the society wandered.
“According to the traditions of an Arunta tribe, the Achilpa, ... From the trunk of a gum tree Numbakula fashioned the sacred pole (kauwa-auwa) and, after anointing it with blood, climbed it and disappeared into the sky. This pole represents a cosmic axis, for it is around the sacred pole that territory becomes hab- itable ... During their wanderings the Achilpa always carry it with them and choose the direction they are to take by the direction toward which it bends. This allows them, while being continually on the move, to be always in ‘their world’ and, at the same time, in communication with the sky into which Numbakula vanished. For the pole to be broken denotes ca- tastrophe; it is like ‘the end of the world’, reversion to chaos. Spencer and Gillen report that once, when the pole was broken ... they wandered about aim- lessly for a time, and finally laid down on the ground together to wait for death to overtake them.” (Eliade, 1987, p. 33)

FIG. 4 Achilpa Cosmogony Ritual
For the Achilpa, the erecting of the Kauwa-auwa as an axis mundi constitutes a foundation ritual that includes the repeating of Munbakula’s climbing of the pole to heaven (as seen in FIG. 4 above). This foundation ritual establishes, for the Achilpa, a new Center of the World.

City Order
Foundational place-making can also be seen in ancient city forms. For instance, in ancient Meso- potamian cities the Boundary becomes the wall, the Axis Mundi is manifested by the ziggurat at the Center stepping to heaven (a stylized sacred moun- tain), and Measurement (differentiation) is defined through the major roads that cut through the city, connecting the major portals (the way in and out). (see FIG.’s 5 & 6) These roads also define the ‘quar- ters of the city’ – a designation that persists linguisti- cally to this day (French Quarter, Latin Quarter, etc.).
It is interesting to compare the ancient Mesopota- mian image of a city (FIG. 5) and the ancient Egyp- tian hieroglyph for “city” (FIG. 7) to the organiza- tional components of Eden (centered, bounded, and measured – into quarters) (FIG.’s 2 & 3). This cross-cultural and trans-historic use of the same set of geometric relationships suggests that it is a fun- damental archetype, shared by human societies in their attempts to bring order to their place in the
“By occupying it (unsettled land) and , above all, by settling in it, man symbolically transforms it into a cosmos through a ritual repetition of the cosmog- ony. What is to become ‘our world’ must first be ‘created’, and every creation has a paradigmatic model – the creation of the universe by the gods.” (Eliade, 1987, p. 31)

FIG. 5 Ancient Mesopotamian city diagram           FIG. 6 Ancient Babylon                                          FIG. 7 Ancient Egyptian hieroglyph for ‘City’

Jerusalem and the Center of the World

Ancient Jerusalem, in fundamental relationships if not in precision, also fulfills this basic paradisiacal model. The city is bounded by a wall. The wall con- tains portals through which major roads pass. These roads cut through the city, subdividing it into pre- cincts. And at its center is the Temple Mount (the mountain) upon which sat the Temple of Solomon – the physical and symbolic link between God and His people. While the city was never a perfect cir- cle, the symbolic importance in the Judeo-Christian tradition of Jerusalem as the City of God was so strong that it was depicted for centuries as a perfect circle – thus fulfilling the paradisiacal cosmo-gram – emphasizing the importance of both the symbolic geometry and of Jerusalem as ideal forms that ap- proach God’s cosmic order – heaven on earth (par- adise). (FIG’s 8, 9, 10)
According to Rabbinical tradition, the Temple was founded on the “Foundation Stone” (FIG. 11), itself the Center of the World. From the Midrash Tanchu- ma,
As the navel is set in the centre of the human body, so is the land of Israel the navel of the world... situated in the centre of the world,
and Jerusalem in the centre of the land of Israel, and the sanctuary in the centre of Jerusalem,
and the holy place in the centre of the sanctuary, and the ark in the centre of the holy place,
and the Foundation Stone before the holy place, because from it the world was founded.
(Midrash Tanhuma)
According to the Zohar (the text from which the Cabala was developed and first published by the 13thC Jewish scholar Moses de Leon), it was from the Foundation Stone that the world was created.
“The world was not created until God took a stone called Even haShetiya and threw it into the depths where it was fixed from above till below, and from it the world expanded. It is the centre point of the world and on this spot stood the Holy of Holies”. (Zo- har)
Talmudic tradition also holds that the Foundation Stone is the site of sacrifices to God by: Adam, Cain, Abel, Noah, and the place where Abraham brought Isaac to be sacrificed. Solomon later founds the
Temple on the Foundation Stone, placing the Holy of Holies with the Ark of the Covenant directly upon it. A circular cut in the Stone penetrates to a cave below known as the “Well of Souls”, thus adding an- other symbolic function of the Stone as the “Navel of the World” or “Omphalos”. The Stone is also attrib- uted to be the site from which Jacob ascended to heaven on his ladder (a form of Axis Mundi).
In Muslim tradition it is from the Stone that the Proph- et is believed to have been taken on “the Night Journey” to pray with Abraham, Moses and Jesus. When Jerusalem was taken by the Muslim army in the 7thC CE, the “Dome of the Rock” (FIG. 12) was constructed to properly protect and memorialize the Stone and to create a properly sanctified space around it. The structure is centered on the Founda- tion Stone. This center serves as the point from which the enclosed area is first differentiated into four parts and then eight. This octagonal symmetry in the horizontal plane supports the dome above, itself a representation of the dome of heaven. This dome is centered on the Foundation Stone below and con- nected to it by the invisible Axis Mundi..

FIG. 8 Image of Jerusalem, 15thC                                               FIG. 9 “City of David”, 16thC                                            FIG. 10 Jerusalem as Center of the World, 16thC


Roman City Order

If Jerusalem was believed by the Abrahamic religions to be the Center of the World, founders of Roman settlements were no less interested in the religious significance of the making of a city. According to their religious rituals, a point was first established and a rut was then plowed into the ground centered on the original point. This described the eventual city wall. From the center radiated the Cardo and De- cumanus - the major roads oriented to the cardinal directions. At the center were then built the struc- tures of military, civic and religious authority. By the construction of these seats of authority, the Romans brought order to the new city and its surrounding countryside. Prior to these foundation rituals, the site and its surrounding region was believed to be without order, chaotic, barbaric (recalling Eliade’s description of creating order – differentiation – from undifferentiated chaos). “The normal templum, as Varro says, ‘ought to have a continuous fence ... ‘This insistence’, says Kurt Latte, ‘on a purifying enclosure of lands is in any case characteristic of Roman religious thought.’ But the town shared other characteristic with the tem- ple, besides that of being ritually enclosed. The most important of these was the conrectio, the division into four parts ...” (Rykwert, pg. 46)
 “... the most important part of the whole founding ceremony, to which I now come, was the cutting of the sulcus primigenius, the initial furrow. This was per- formed by the founder with a bronze plow to which ... a white ox and cow were yoked, the ox on the outside of the boundary, the cow on the inside. ... The founder ...ploughed round the site of the city. ... When he came to the places on the boundary where the gates were to go ... he took the plow out of the ground and carried it over the span of the gate. ... this carrying (portare) which provides the root of porta, a gate. ... the walls which followed the line ... cut by the founder’s plow were sacred, while the gates were subject to civil jurisdiction.” (Rykwert, pg.65)
 In Rykwert’s two quotes above, there are several elements of the paradisiacal (Edenic) cosmo-gram at work. There is a continuous enclosure around a center. Within this enclosure, the area is divided into four parts (the conrectio). And the enclosure wall is defined by a rut made by a larger animal on the outside and a smaller animal on the inside, thus ap- proximating a circle. Traces of the original Roman city order can still be seen in cities such as Florence (FIG. 13).

London as the New Jerusalem

During the 17th Century, Western society and the way it ordered cities went through many funda- mental changes. Arguably the most fundamental change was in the method as defined by Descartes by which humans were to understand – and operate within – the world. But this budding scientific under- standing did not quickly erase the traditional world view that preceded it. In fact, many of the same early ‘scientists’ were actively engaged in what we would now consider pre-scientific pursuits. In Eng- land, Newton practiced alchemy, Boyle practiced sacred geometry (Hancox, 1997) and Wren served as his lodge’s master mason. Many of the founding members of the Royal Society belonged to on or- ganization called “the Cabala Club”. They did not view this activity as mutually exclusive of ‘science’ – but as a way of fusing the new and traditional world views. Nowhere can this be seen better than in the plans drawn up for the reconstruction of London fol- lowing the Great Fire of 1666. Taking the opportunity to better establish London as the “New Jerusalem” (Schuchard, 2002 and Hart, 1994), sources of order were sought that broke from the Roman church’s authority. Entries by Wren and Evelyn symbolically paid homage to the cabalistic “Tree of Life” (FIG. 18) – employing multiple centers of civic and religious authority connected by the major streets – creating a pattern (especially in Evelyn’s proposal) not unlike the “Tree” (FIG. 15). Other proposals employed the new, perfectly rational Cartesian grid (FIG. 14).
In the end, the politics of expediency dictated that very little of the pre-fire street pattern was changed. But Wren oriented the new St. Paul’s (unlike the origi- nal St. Paul’s which was oriented directly to the East) on axis with the Templar (Temple) Church beyond. The illustration at left (FIG. 16) shows this orientation on the lowest image. The center image is of the Temple Church plan and the upper image the plan of the Dome of the Rock. The Temple Church was built by the Knights Templar as one of many church- es based on the order of the Dome of the Rock (which the Knights Templar referred to as “Solomon’s Temple”) and of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
With this orientation to the Temple Church, the new St. Paul’s makes a strong symbolic connection to the original Abrahamic Center of the World in its various forms: Jerusalem/Solomon’s Temple/Foundation Stone/the Holy of Holies/the Well of Souls/the Navel of the World (Omphalos)
This symbolic connection was important to Wren and his contemporaries in order to establish London as the New Jerusalem, St. Paul’s as the new Solomon’s Tem- ple, and the Stuart monarchy as the new Solomonic kingship.
“In seeking to enact the imperial roles of the British Sol- omon, Constantine and Christ, the Stuart monarchy naturally promoted solar iconography ... according to Agrippa, Moses face did shine such that the chil- dren of Israel could not behold him by reason of the brightness of his countenance” (Hart, pg. 157)
Not only had the Stuart monarchy been felled by Charles I’s beheading, the original St. Pauls’ tower had been felled by the Great Fire. It had served as London’s Axis Mundi – as depicted in the (pre-fire) 17thC image of London (FIG. 17) . For London to be established as the New Jerusalem (new Center of the World) then meant that a reestablishment of the monarchy was necessary. And a new Axis Mundi needed to be established.
Wren established the new Axis Mundi by using the cabbalistic Tree of Life as his starting point. This is the
same Tree of Life diagram used by Evelyn in his pro- posal for the new plan of London (see above). Thought to be of Mosaic origins by Wren and his con- temporaries, the cabbalistic tree was the perfect de- vice for establishing a symbolic connection to Jerusa- lem, Eden and the original Creation. For more on the above section, see Padget, 2012.

In the Genesis story, God created Cosmos from Chaos by establishing a Center, a Boundary and Measurement (the four rivers). At the Center, He placed a Paradisiacal Garden (Eden) with an Axis Mundi (the Tree). Once cast out from this perfect place, humankind was left to re-create as best as they could the order of Paradise. Humankind of various traditions has employed the archetypal forms described above in the establishment of sacred places and cities. In the Abrahamic traditions, the shared Center of the Earth has been Jerusalem and the Foundation Stone. In or- der to create a new Center of the Earth, Wren and his contemporaries used the same archetypal elements. The plans (esp. by Wren and Evelyn) for the recon- struction of the City engaged in the symbolic re-crea- tion by establishing conditions of Bounded-ness (using the line of the old city wall), Centered-ness (with an Axis mundi – the Tree), and Measured-ness – the archetypal forms of Paradisiacal Order.


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