“When the proportions are adjusted, and the dimensions found by calculation, then it is the part of a skilful architect to consider the nature of the place, the purpose of the building, and the beauty of it.”          VITRUVIUS

When everything was mystical and metaphorical, it was only natural that numbers should have been brought to the service of Art.  Geometry also provided a symbolical code, which may some day be understood.  These geometrical symbols enabled the mathematicians to import the secret mysteries into their works, and also gave to the builders a means of applying a numerical system to the temples, which, as Plato says, exhibited the pattern of the laws in Egypt.  Considerable traces of this symbolical geometry survive in the arcana of Freemasonry.

Philosophy must have been equally dependent upon some system of geometry, for Plato wrote over the door of his academy;


Besides the Vesica Piscis, the old philosophers and freemasons were accustomed to use as symbols all the plane geometrical figures.  The Pythagorean emblem, the Pentalpha, or five-pointed star, and the Hexalpha, or Solomon’s Seal, have been used in the church from time immemorial as symbols of Christ and the Trinity, and have a variety of emblematic associations.  The Hexagon was the common symbol of the Masonic Cube, while the Triangle, and Square had each their use as geometrical symbols.  The Cross has also been, from the remotest times, a potent mystical emblem among all ancient peoples. Crosses were generally of three kinds, the Tau Cross, the upright or Jerusalem Cross, and the Saltire or diagonal Cross; and each had its peculiar significance.

The practical secrets of the old mediaeval architects, who built the cathedrals according to the mysteries of the church, have perished with the old craft lodges.  All old writers on architecture, as well as Freemasons, insist that geometry is the foundation of their art; but their hints as to its application are so obscure that no one in recent times has been able to explain how it was used.

Amongst other changes, we notice the disappearance of the old order of practical Freemasons, and a corresponding decline in all the architectural arts. The change of religious opinions affected the whole basis of theology, necessarily extending to the design of the churches.  During the Middle Ages, the Freemasons had worked according to the ancient rules received in continuity from their predecessors, who had worshipped the older gods of earlier systems, whose rites still survived and accorded with the primitive Christianity of the mediaeval Church.

It was when this old conception of religion began to be superseded at the Reformation that the need or desire for a body of architects instructed in theological mysteries no longer acknowledged ceased to exist; and the secret methods of all previous temple builders left in the hands of the Freemasons fell into disuse and were gradually forgotten.

Building was not the only art or science which had its symbolical secrets, but the Freemasons depended entirely on the Church for their support.  Consequently, when the Reformation began to discourage the secret discipline as a part of the teaching of theology, masons of the old instructed kind were no longer employed to build the churches.  It is not surprising to find that modern architects do not know that the treatise of Vitruvius is a mystical book, and do not understand the rules which he teaches.

The geometrical principles of design found in the Gothic cathedrals formed the secret of the Freemasons.  In the traditions and ritual of modern Freemasonry, we have the remains of those philosophical doctrines, which at one time guided the practice of architecture.  The early Freemasons were the ecclesiastical workmen, authorized by the Pope.  At that time many of the masters were bishops and abbots, while the monks worked as journeymen in the different crafts.

“What is the form of the Lodge?

“A long square.

“How long?

“From east to west.

“How broad?

“Between north and south.

“How deep?

“From the surface of the earth to the centre.

“How high?

“Even as high as the heavens.”

extracted and liberally edited from: The Canon by William Stirling

“Even those who have never studied geometry, mathematics, music or architectural proportion can begin to see the outline of the prehistoric God, and through the practice of these arts direct contact can be made with the minds of former adepts.  Kepler said that while compiling his system of the universe he felt that he was following God in the sequence of his thoughts.”       John Michell  The View over Atlantis

About michaellangford2012

Timber framer, boatbuilder, dreamer, writer, musician; collector of books, tools, aphorisms. "There is nothing, absolutely nothing…half so much worth doing…as simply messing about in boats."
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3 Responses to Vitruvius

  1. Phil says:

    I suspect, Michael, that you and I have a few things in common. Well, more than suspect; from your writing, we surely do. I built a house — simple but sturdy — in which my children thrived and grew for ten years, I write, I collect books and aphorisms. And I like your attitude.

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