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Catherine Sorensen
Period 5
Essay #2
Spaces for Religious Devotion
Churches, sculptures, and temples are all examples of man-made structures that
have encouraged, facilitated and embodied religious devotion. Cultures all over the world
have created these religious sanctuaries including Buddhists and the European Jesuits. In
order to practice their religion, Buddhists created sanctuaries called stupas. The stupas are
circular structures whose roofs are composed of a dome. A stone fence surrounds the
stoned dome sculptures. A man named Ashoka created the Great Stupa at Sanchi, India,
and it is very representational of a typical Buddhists stupa. Meanwhile, the Jesuits in
Rome created churches to support their counter-reformation motives. For the most part,
Jesuit churches have an elegant frontal façade and a huge nave. A prime example of a
Jesuit church is the Il Gesu-, which is, in fact, the first church of the Jesuit order. The
façade was created by Giacomo della Porta and its plan was by Giacomo da Vignola.
Although both structures- Il Gesu and the Great Stupa- were created for a similar
religious reason, their architectural composition and style drastically differ to match their
unique purpose.
The Great Stupa at Sanchi has a circular design. The building is composed of a
massive dome. There are no rectangular walls, nor are there individual rooms within the
building. Instead, there is one massive central room and a circular wall design. Also, the
building is a gray, natural stone color. At the top of the dome, there is a small square
stone fence, called a harmika. Within the stone fence, there is a square space and a pole
called a Chatras. While the exterior of the dome is simple, sturdy and monumental, the
Jesuit church called Il Gesu is elegant, extravagant, and richly decorated. Il Gesu is
essentially a late Renaissance design. The façade is very frontal and geometric. There are
tall rectangular pilasters, a triangular portal, a semicircular portal and there are scrolls
that effectively unite the lower and upper portions of the building. Other than the
sculptural decorations, the color of the building is relatively plain- like the stupas. The
interior of Il Gesu has an ample nave, which was created to allow for massive crowds to
enter. Moreover, Il Gesu was built on a busy city street, which further encouraged people
to enter.
The Buddhists created the design for the stupas to specifically match their
spiritual needs. The stupas were created as a religious site to hold the relics of the
Buddha. However, instead of creating naves and ambulatories, the Buddhists design their
stupas as earthly mounds. Unlike the western Europeans, the cultures of southeast Asia
did not put their relics on display, rather, they buried them. Moreover, the circular design
of the stupa was created to allow the Buddhists to practice circumambulation. In order to
praise the Buddhist remains; they walked around the stupa in a clockwise direction. This
action created harmony because they followed the path of the sun. This religious practice
was made easy through the stupa’s design. On the other hand, Il Gesu was created with
another purpose in mind. Through out the 16th century, there was a lot of religious strifepeople began to question the Catholic Church. Thus, in order to increase devotion and
inspire religious zeal, the Jesuits were created. Their first church, Il Gesu, was also
designed to help the Jesuits their counter-reformation plans. Il Gesu was designed to have
a beautiful, intriguing interior exterior and a massive hall-like interior. The sole purpose
of the building was to instill religious vigor in others- to help the Jesuits spread their
ideals. The location, the elegant façade and the wide voluminous interior all unite to
create a church that welcomed an abundance of people.
In order to practice religious devotion, cultures all over the world have created
structures specifically designed to supply their religious needs. The Great Stupa at
Sanchi, India is a simple, sturdy, and round building that is designed to match the
harmony that is essential to Buddhism. Meanwhile, the Il Gesu church in Rome, Italy is a
beautiful sculptural masterpiece that helped the Jesuits hold massive congregations of
people to preach to and inspire.