While the largely illiterate medieval worshippers could read the symbols contained within the windows and carvings of their churches, today, we are less attuned to what they all mean. The Secret Language of Churches and Cathedrals, published this month by Richard Stemp, restores the lost spiritual meaning of these fine and fascinating buildings.
Every element of a church or cathedral has a purpose, whether structural or symbolic. This illustrated guide to the language of Christian buildings identifies the key features found in the fabric, furniture and decoration of churches from different periods and different branches of the faith. It traces the development of church architecture using real examples and explains how the builders intended their work to be ‘read’ symbolically. These were places of religious education and told stories as well as creating an awe-inspiring feast that satisfied both the senses and the soul.
So the next time you find yourself asking who is depicted in that stained glass window or what is the significance of those geometric figures or why is there a pelican on the lectern and ornate foliage on the pillars just reach for this book. It can help us recognise the meanings and stories deliberately encoded into them. The Secret Language of Churches & Cathedrals provides a three-part illustrated key by which modern visitors can understand the layout, fabric and decorative symbolism of Christian sacred structures – thereby bringing back to life their original atmosphere of awe and sanctity.