Communicating the Elemental Cosmos: The Hereford Mappa Mundi, Sacred Space and the City

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This philosophical contribution investigates the nature and importance of sacred space considered as an elemental microcosm. Elemental microcosm is taken to mean a three-dimensional representation of our world, composed of the elements so as to form a valuable,coherent and communicable worthy whole that mirrors those same qualities of the cosmos. When a sacred space is considered as an elemental microcosm, it can intensify and mediate significant sacred aspects inherent to the city. In this way, the false antithesis between the city and what is sacred comes to light. Following upon the modern quest to rationalize everything, including the purpose and integral meaning of the metropolis, today we are in danger of losing an affiliation with the elemental, which involves openness toward notions of transcendence and the possibility of community. While the contemporary city can seem anything but receptive to a sense of divine transcendence, this contribution discusses how the presence of sacred spaces within a city can both instantiate and re-awaken awareness of what it is to be of the elemental order, which constantly transcends itself while being at the same time as much of the living cosmos as it is of humans. Discussion begins with the contrast between two ways of thinking the human relationship to everyday spaces. The space of rationality, particularly influenced by Descartes, is so abstract that it tends to separate us from imaginative ways of understanding our place in the cosmos. On the other hand, place-theory credits so much value to the individual body and personal experience that possibilities of communication and community break down. There can be neither a city nor a robust understanding of the sacred if place-theory’s presuppositions and consequences are taken to their extreme. The median way between these two positions can be found by bringing together the most important aspects of rational thought and lived bodily experience. We proceed toward doing this in several ways. The first is via Erwin Straus’s theory, examined because it allows for both abstract and concrete modes of knowing the world. Secondly, the coordinates of medieval mapping, which integrate the particular and the universal into a cosmic view.


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The Sacred in the City may be accessed from the publisher here

The Sacred in the City may be accessed from the National Library of Australia here