A mystical quality of light reflects on all surfaces in Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, the first domed basilica, now a museum. Tightly spaced rings of forty windows at the base of the dome were designed to provide light to what would have been a cavernous dark space, lit only by candles. The windows create an illusion that the dome is floating in air and resting on the light that flows through them. Without the shafts of bright sunlight bouncing around on the walls, the floors and the ceilings, how would anyone be able to see the varied patterns and colors of marble, alabaster, onyx and intricately designed mosaics? If you lower your lids you can almost see the angels flying within the sunshafts.
For the curious…Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, renamed Istanbul, the renovation of an earlier basilica, was the largest church in the world. Earthquakes and structural problems made it necessary to renovate in 532AD. It was converted to a mosque in 1453 when the minarets were added.
Mario Botta’s The Cathedral of the Resurrection (1988-95) at Evry, France, is a cylindrical shell punctuated with bands of diminutive keyhole windows and overhead skylight. The sloping glass roof is inset with an equilateral triangle whose shape defines the three light sources that illuminate the interior. According to Botta, “To build a cathedral today is an extraordinary opportunity to create and enrich the environment in which we live.”
Botta believes the cathedral is a necessity for all as it connects us to the past, when our beautiful, old cities were new.
Pardon the cliché, but in truth there is no other way to say: Without the past, there is no future.
What’s your favorite window? How does it light up your life?
Sir Banister Fletcher’s A History of Architecture. London; Boston: Butterworths, 1987.
Dupré Judith, Churches. HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., New York, 2001.