The Common Spiritual Background of the Cathedral of Chartres and the Altar of Isenheim

Two extracts of a book now available in electronic formats in PDF.

The Veneration of Mary, the Octave and the Enneagram:
The purpose of human being in the creation and the cause of his suffering.

In the world of appearances
Love manifests itself
as law.

First extract: Foreword

Second Extract: The Labyrinth of Chartres (follows after the Foreword)


I am an outsider with my interpretations of works of art. This provides the advantage that my view is not formed by the binoculars of the art historians. I allow works of art to speak directly and to connect with the knowledge that through decades of studies of cosmological structures is accumulated in me. According to my way of seeing, it is crucial to acknowledge that many famous works of art, which have survived for thousands of years, were created from an entirely different set of motivations than contemporary art. Ancient art was created on the basis of a wider world view that was the result of long studies and training and allowed the artist to express the knowledge of their respective spiritual traditions for the benefit of the viewer or listener in a creative way. Today we can barely imagine that they saw themselves as being active in the service of harmonisation – in terms of the individual development and the society as a whole. Art was Sacred, and the artists were not tied to representations based on self-will and self-importance.

I am repeatedly asked, if the relationships and connections that I point out in works of "Sacred Art" could have been put in them intuitively. I consider this impossible, because of the demonstrable complexity of exact mathematical and geometrical ratios. It would be more of a miracle if such works had indeed been created intuitively rather than as a result of knowledge that we can hardly imagine or understand from our view of the world. Understanding these is the prerequisite to be able to receive the essential message of Sacred Art.

The knowledge of the cultures does not develop in a linear way in time. We need to approach old traditions with respect, because they have left something to us that are missing in our time, despite the vast knowledge of the material world that we have accumulated.

When viewing particular works of art I stumbled early in my life into some connections, which, through the study of Astrology as cosmology, were already to some extent familiar for me and which were also known to me from the teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff. My own inner psychic processes have borne witness to these values, and have in turn increased my understanding of the messages embedded in the visual languages about God and the world. This has shown that such images have something essential to say to us human beings.

Over time, I came to realize that there is a continuous thread of knowledge running through the whole of human history. This thread is never broken, it runs mostly in secret, and now and then - at times when conditions are favourable - it builds a spiritual school, which then disappears and leaves behind only the outer shell of its work. In the various traditions from one generation to the next, the content is transmitted individually, not only as information, but also as shaping the human potential to bloom by the training of its students. The contents of its essence remain known and understood only by those who have been prepared for it. This happens mainly because without adequate understanding - which can only be formed by longer training - no benefit can be derived from these teachings; just in a similar way as children also first have to master the basics before they understand higher mathematics and can use them in some way.

Today most of this knowledge is accessible, although its importance is not yet recognised. The recognised sciences are not yet building the vessel, which is needed for adding the contents of this knowledge into it. We grow slowly towards the appropriate understanding. There are more and more well-known researchers who have not only come to a wider perspective, but who also dare to stand in public and express what they have understood.

In the past, this knowledge was closely connected with art, and its impact was intended for the benefit of the members of society. We know that in order for advertising to be effective, images must be meticulously planned for the message to penetrate into the mind of the consumer. This kind of knowledge was also in the service of Sacred Art, while it was applied consciously by artists who embedded cosmic structures in the familiar stories associated with a particular culture.

Works of art were in this way instruments for orientation and harmonisation of human beings. Cosmic structures were clothed in the language of the time and culture, in the spirit of the time. While the viewer was busy with the familiar characters and their presentation, the cosmological structures were able to penetrate into their unconscious. These structures have a healing effect by harmonising chaotic and twisted psychic patterns, enlivening healthy internal functioning and thus changing the outlook of the viewers.

Today we talk about globalisation at all levels. Even in terms of spirituality, there are serious efforts to create inter-religious platforms. We are beginning to recognise little by little that religions are different aspects of one reality. They are rays of the same Sun - and even if they move in different directions, they come from the same source.

Globalisation in a spiritual dimension can arise only from the perspective of Unity, when we see our planet and humanity as a living entity, embedded in the cosmic environment, woven in the process of the evolving universe. Seeing not only in a concrete physical way, like the astronauts can see the earth from space, neither seeing with an emotionally coloured vision, but seeing from the knowledge of the Unity of all being. This knowledge includes also knowing the laws and tasks of the parts of the whole. To understand the meaning and purpose of our planet and the place of humanity and the human being in this universal context, objective knowledge is necessary. This knowledge is implicit in every great religion. Today it is necessary to expose the "skeleton" and to understand it also intellectually; to open the "package" and to come into clear statements. This is made possible and also required in our time. The era of globalisation is also the time of clarification - in the narrowest sense of the word - even in spirituality. By the flood of head-heavy knowledge we do not know that there is a knowledge of another dimension and certainly not that this knowledge can give us 'something' that we need. It is a wonderful idea (and also true!) that we have everything in us. That is one side of reality. The other side is that we are first approaching this knowledge when "the prince wakes Sleeping Beauty", in our soul.

This is not a new interpretation of the universe, but rather a reformulation of the eternally valid laws and relationships of living creation. The study of the knowledge of ancient traditions is essential for us - it helps us "to discover America anew." We must rediscover the theory and understand it in its original sense: the Greek word "theory" means "Vision of God".

The search for universal laws is an ambitious target of our time: for laws, which apply from the smallest to the largest, and on which all phenomena of the universe is equally based. These "universal laws" are called cosmology and were termed as such in the various spiritual schools.
Decades of study open up the ability in us to see and think in cosmic dimensions. Today, we lack the schools to pass on such knowledge alongside the training that is necessary to develop the right kind of perception.

In works of art - from the archaic art of the Antique Greece to Rembrandt - we find not only references to the same cosmological structures, but also elements of them up to the smallest detectable details. They shine through in a variety of artistic creations.

Geometry is two-dimensional mathematics, while it also forms the basis of the three-dimensional living forms that grow out of its principles. Geometric structures connect directly with the deepest knowledge of the soul, even when concealed by the temporal manifestations of life. The theme of cosmology runs through all works of art that appeal to humans as cosmic beings. This theme is defined in the structure of Astrology, the Octave and the Enneagram. These structures form the basis of all great works of art, and are concealed in them like geometric shapes are concealed in the great variety of plant structures.

So why was cosmology so important, so crucial? What has it got to do with our existence as human beings? Why is this defined so clearly, again and again, in paintings, cathedrals, stories and sculptures, and especially in music? Was Pythagoras’ main concern really to teach the proportions of the notes of the octave? Is there something else behind this, something that concerns man as a being of cosmic significance and importance?

As already mentioned, for our mind, trained in the West, it is difficult to imagine and understand that the people of "old" knew more than we do in some respects. That is exactly what we need to take into consideration in order to be open and to hear what they are telling us without preconceptions.

Works of art that are based on correct cosmological proportions and mathematical ratios remain effective over thousands of years – as can be seen for example in the vertical structures of Chartres, which are built with musical proportions. A number of writers have already extensively demonstrated this also in connection with the buildings in ancient Egypt.

I have devoted another book to the cosmology present in many important works of art ranging from the ancient world to Rembrandt. In this present work I only hint at the individual topics, and do not go into them in detail. For those interested in studying the cosmological basis of these ideas, I would suggest my book "Astrology as a Cosmological System".

The Labyrinth of Chartres

Among the enormous wealth of information built in the Chartres cathedral, the labyrinth seems easily understandable: we can look at it from above and our heart responds to what we see. We can walk through it, and the knowledge of our soul in its reality will be addressed on every step. We take it for granted that we understand its meaning. Do we really know what is meant by the labyrinth of the Cathedral of Chartres? Is our interpretation of its meaning correct?

The proportions of the labyrinth are of such complexity, so multi-layered, that we can only slowly, through research, deliberately get to the real meaning. In this connection I wish to point out the work and a book by Keith Critchlow, who is a foremost expert in Sacred Art, Architecture and Geometry: „Chartres Labyrinth, A Model of the Universe and the Journey of the Soul.“ He sees the universe and „the Journey of the Soul“ as one. In our spiritual Way, exactly this is at stake; that we attain this integrated, holistic view. This means that we recognise that in every human being there is included the whole universe and what we see outside us is an expression of what is within us. In a similar way we are touched by the infinite space of the sky. Exploring the stars is an intense desire in human beings: we wish to know ourselves. We wish to know who we are.

References to cosmic events are detected in all holy places, all the way back to the Stone Age. Places of worship are not primarily due to "practical" reasons and agricultural purposes directed towards the movements of the Sun and Moon. They are results of the knowledge that refers to distinctive turning points in the solar system corresponding to inner instances in us. This harmony with the cosmic forces gives us the possibility to find out experientially the purpose of our own existence. Addressing the energy of cosmic happenings is a help to remind us of what we all the time forget in everyday life: our challenging human purpose. By awakening the remembrance we can again and again align ourselves anew.

The geometry of the labyrinth is very complex. Here I only take some aspects, such as the position of the labyrinth in connection with the Octave and the Enneagram. I have so far found no evidence in the literature on these subjects. Let us look closely at the place of the labyrinth on the floor plan of the cathedral.

From the entry into the cathedral by the western main entrance to the opening of the transept, there are eight columns, that is, seven spaces in between them. This is an Octave, which those who enter cross through and complete by the transept. At the same time, this is the beginning of a higher Octave, which opens in the choir and with its five columns, it is not fully deployed. There are a total of 12 spaces in the nave before the final semi-circle of the choir. Moreover: seven plus five, as in the scene of Solomon's Judgement on the North portal.

The labyrinth starts right at the third column corresponding to Mi. According to the previous statements this is not surprising. The Cathedral is the image of cosmos - man is the cosmos - the Cathedral is his image. We, you and me, are this man - like every other human being - and we walk through our own self when we are walking through the entrance towards the Holy of Holies. DO, RE, MI - and then the labyrinth invites us to stop. What is happening here and what for?

It is not generally known that there was originally placed Theseus fighting the Minotaur at the centre of the labyrinth. The myth of the Minotaur is really not a Christian story! Its origin is from the Minoan civilization on Crete, which has been integrated into the Greek mythology. Chartres was not the only place with the presentation of the Minotaur in the centre of the maze! This shows that the builders of Chartres have used images that describe most accurately the inner reality, regardless of where the ideas come from. Today, this important reference, essential to the meaning of the labyrinth, is missing. The interpretation is left to us and we interpret it based on our imagination.

We are stopped here in the spiritual Way - the Way in us, through us, towards the cosmic consciousness of Unity. That is the point at which the teacher dismisses his pupils with the words: "Forgive your parents and come back again." Why?

From what we really are, as we are born into incarnation, there arise deposits of conditioning, layer by layer. As humans, we are convinced that we are identical with these layers, even though we do not even know the nature of some of them, and what they enclose and hide. We want to jump directly to "heaven with our boots on," as G. I. Gurdjieff put it. And that is not possible! Through the "narrow gate" only the bare essence can pass, everything else remains stuck. It is necessary to go through all the layers of personality, layer by layer; to learn to know all deposits that have formed around our individual centre, so that they become transparent. It is necessary to go through the eleven layers of the labyrinth with its right and left turns, closer to the centre and far away from it in the outer bows. The whole area must gradually be viewed and integrated. Everything must be seen, our whole life, in all the patterns, with all that "I am not"; what has been inherited, must also be recognised and liberated.

The going around the labyrinth starts with the opening of the originally closed nature of the twelve signs of the Zodiac, so that the "thirteenth", the one who enters can get into it and become the centre. It is one of the brilliant ideas realised in the cathedral in this difficult construction. There must have been an important message that has caused such an endeavour.

The division of the labyrinth by thirteen after Dr Keith Critchlow

What do we meet when we arrive in the centre? We are confronted with something surprising: the Minotaur. It is not the Divine, there is no great experience of light, but there is a creature, half-animal, half human. The human is instilled in us, and we believe that it is our nature. This illusion must be taken away from us. Only what we really are, can go on from this point and evolve. The false, - what we have, but what we are not - is an obstacle and it lets us go on and on circling around ourselves, without getting anywhere. Being stuck here and circling around ourselves spiritualises the ego. Once we get into the middle, we are confronted with the struggle with the "Minotaur" in us, the way Theseus from Athens fought with it. Is it shocking? How could we have expected to meet the Divine so soon, are we not still almost in the beginning of the Way? What should still take place on the long way to the Holy?

By the red Indians, these not-yet-human in our core, are known as the totem animals. For someone it might be a shock to discover that his being is a butterfly, not capable of carrying any loads. Others may discover a stubborn donkey or an innocent lamb in themselves. A lamb? Yes, the lamb in Christianity is not fought, but sacrificed, quite unlike the story of Theseus and the Minotaur at the pre-Christian times, when combat was a necessity. The spirit of the time is expressed in different images and time and again with a different attitude.

When we get lost in the maze, the going-around-oneself-in-circles can become a "navel gazing" habit. To find the way out of the labyrinth we need an "Ariadne’s thread". Theseus received it from Ariadne, the king's daughter, but not for finding his way to the centre, but to find his way out. We cannot settle in this centre with a justification, like: "I am like this; I will live my life according to this identity." Physically, the maze is the solar plexus, the centre of man, with which he begins the Way.

The centre of the Perfect Man, who has realised his cosmic possibilities, is the heart. It will be only opened further on the Way towards the Holy. Only on the Way, after leaving the labyrinth, we can go straight to where our heart will rule as the centre of our life. When the heart is opened, we will no more "want to be good", but from the purity of being, out of what we really are, we "are good". Until then, we cover in ourselves with "I will” those things that can break out at any moment from our unconscious. Walking through the labyrinth can also be seen as a cleaning process - as it is called in the Tradition of the Christian Orthodoxy. What we want, we are yet not - when we become it at the end of this process, then we do not need to want it - then we are it.

When we arrive from the centre back to the entrance of the labyrinth again, and then our sight is lifted up from the circles of the maze, where it was fastened, we see the large rose window over the entrance. The labyrinth on the floor and this rose window are the same size and at the same distance from the place where we entered through the gate into the cathedral. The same path in the horizontal, on the bare stones of the floor, is lifted to the vertical position, where that what has been experienced appears in bright colours. Yes, the experienced way in the horizontal, on the stones in the ground, were lifted into the vertical in radiant colours. The experiences that have come have been transformed. We see it only at the end of the circling. We have taken the horizontal way of the snake - there is no other way! The pure soul will be elevated in the vertical at the end of the way: the Virgin Mary standing on the snake.

After our soul "is cleaned up", we can follow the path towards the Holy without further hindrance. We then walk over the labyrinth, without engaging ourselves further in it. It remains a part of us, a part that no longer holds us back in circles but is carried within us as a part to the Holy Altar. Our life, our memories will be saved.

Our attention is freed from this moment on to acknowledge everything in larger contexts. From then on, we will be concerned not only about our own welfare.

Author; Agnes Hidvéghy Categories: Altar of Isenheim

About the Author

Agnes Hidvéghy

Agnes Hidvéghy

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Sonntag, 25. Juni 2017 22:39