Monday, May 16, 2016

Hortus Conclusus

To see the World in a Grain of Sand 
And a heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour. 

William Blake

In the Begijnhof in Bruges every high gable end window overlooking rooftops and chimney stacks or low door opening to a walled courtyard or hidden garden suggests the satisfactions of a deliberately chosen interior life of solitary seclusion, and the disciplines of work and contemplation, amongst a community of like minded individuals, gathered around the paradox of space at the centre of things, at once limited and confined yet infinite and liberating. 

In Rob Aben and Saskia de Wit's 'The Enclosed Garden, History and Development of the Hortus Conclusus and its Reintroduction into the Present-day Urban Landscape', the theme of orientation and alignment of body to cosmos and inner to outer space through the architecture of the enclosed garden, often at the heart of the city, monastery, large or small house, is developed as they describe the evolution of its design from the Middle Ages in both Christian and Islamic traditions with analysis of specific examples up to and including the present day. 

' In the enclosed garden there are palpable references enabling one to orient oneself in time, space and society. 'Cosmic orientation', the primitive experience of being on this earth, is provided by the opposition between earth and heaven, high and low, vertical and horizontal, light and dark. the sun's path and that of the stars aid orientation and give and sense of direction. 'Temporal orientation' is gained from the rhythm of the seasons, of day and night and their utterly different effect on our experience of space, and from the tangible presence of the past. 'Territorial orientation' proceeds from the visible topography, the simultaneous presence from close to far off, the references to the far distance from out of the enclosed space, and the dualities of centre and periphery and inside and outside. These various aspects of orientation take on architectural shape in the physical enclosure, a structure introduced into unspecified natural space: organizing the surface on the one hand and giving spatial form on the other.'

Elsewhere in relation to literary archetypes for heavenly paradises in either a garden or a city they indicate that the Dutch word 'tuin' (garden) and the English word town are related etymologically.  I would suggest this grounds Luc Schuiten's utopian vision of the 'vegetal city' in a much older tradition. 

In Keith D Lilley's 'City and Cosmos' the Holy Blood procession in Bruges, (which took place last Thursday 5th of May) performs a per-ambulatory geography of the Holy Blood that is (according to Boogaart)

'...symbolically and cosmologically significant, tracing an outline of the world in and through the city, taking in the whole city and encompassing it with the holy blood of Christ the Redeemer.'

'There is therefore a social and spatial parallelism in the ordering of city and cosmos as traced out by the geography of the Bruges procession. The procession began at the city's spiritual and symbolic centre, its axis mundi, the place the city's ruling 'head' resided. Then with its movement from the centre to the edge, from inside to outside the city, and in encompassing its perimeter, the procession traced out the moral topography of the cosmic body, with its 'purer' inner core contrasting with its outer margins, the place of the lower orders. Hence through its shared forms and hierarchical ordering, unifying the city's body yet reinforcing its divine order in the social hierarchy, the procession of the Holy Blood drew onto the city a 'map' of the cosmos.'  

Bruges 'egg' shape suggests enclosure and containment, something warm, protective and nurturing, a place for incubating life.  

 In Gaston Bachelard's 'The Poetics of Space', physical and psychological worlds converge in the archetypal 'house', rather than garden or the city, where both body and cosmos, dreams and reality are comfortably accommodated. In the chapter, 'The house, from cellar to garret and the significance of the hut' he writes,

'For our house is our corner of the world. As has often been said, it is our first universe, a real cosmos in every sense of the word.'

'And always, in our daydreams, the house is a large cradle.'

'Life begins well, it begins enclosed, protected, all warm in the bosom of the house.' 

Quoting Anne Balif on page 72, in the chapter 'House and Universe', he writes,  

"...asking  a child to draw his house is asking him to reveal the deepest dream of shelter he has found for his happiness. If he is happy, he will succeed in drawing a snug, protected house which is well built in deeply rooted foundations". It will have the right shape, and nearly always there will be some indication of inner strength. In certain drawings, quite obviously, to quote Mme. Balif, " it is warm indoors, and there is a fire burning, such a big fire, in fact, that it can be seen coming out of the chimney." When the house is happy, soft smoke rises in gay rings above the roof. 

My own effort to dream up and create renovated fireplace is still a work in progress but the soft contours of NHL 3.5 hydraulic lime plaster give the consolidated walls a traditional, breathable surface that is both beautiful and consistent with the original lime mortar between the old bricks and under the stripped later layers. There is sanding and building to be done tiles and a top to be added to the mantle and surround and the floor has to come out and terracotta tiles have to be laid on a lime-crete slab and breathable insulation layer.


and of houses, bodies and the cosmos, time and space the Buddha had this to say......

  "I tell you, friend, that it is not possible by traveling to know or see or reach a far end of the cosmos where one does not take birth, age, die, pass away, or reappear. But at the same time, I tell you that there is no making an end of suffering & stress without reaching the end of the cosmos. Yet it is just within this fathom-long body, with its perception & intellect, that I declare that there is the cosmos, the origination of the cosmos, the cessation of the cosmos, and the path of practice leading to the cessation of the cosmos."

Rohitassa Sutta  AN 4.45 Trans. Thannissaro Bhikkhu

"Seeking but not finding the house builder,
I hurried through the round of many births:
Painful is birth ever and again.

O house builder, you have been seen;
You shall not build the house again.
Your rafters have been broken up,
Your ridgepole is demolished too.

My mind has now attained the unformed Nibbâna
And reached the end of every sort of craving."

Dhp.153 - 154. Trans. by Ñanamoli Thera

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