Thursday, February 26, 2009


Libby wrote in to ask, "I was just wondering if you could answer a question of mine regarding symbols. After discussing what ancient people believed about astronomy's relation to astrology/necromancy in one of my literature classes, my teacher brought up the interesting fact that a particular cathedral in France (I can't remember its name right now, but it is one of the famous ones) has the symbols of the zodiac above a doorway and in a stained glass window. We were unable to find any explanation as to why they were placed in a cathedral like that. I was just wondering if you knew why or knew of any places we could look for the answer.”

Thanks for the question! Here in the Diocese of Cleveland we are awaiting to hear the results of our Vibrant Parish Life initiative which will determine which church buildings remain in use and which ones will close or consolidate. Everybody has their hopes that a particular building will remain for one reason or another. I do too. For artistic and symbolic worth (I know, I know, hardly a reason to keep a building going. But still . . .) one of my favorite parishes in the diocese is Saint James in Lakewood. (So many of my favorite buildings are slated for possible closure. I need a billionaire friend to keep them open as museums for me and future architects etc . . .) In the apes of this building are all the symbols of the zodiac. There are all kinds of rumors in certain circles as to what the meaning of these symbols might be. (Ah! Maybe that will be another series!) Pictures in the semi dome are all the major stars of the night sky connected by lines that make up the symbols of the zodiac.

For starters lets be clear. This has nothing to do with astrology. The Church has long condemned astrology and for very good reasons which are beyond the purview of this article. They represent two very important concepts for us. Firstly they represent the cosmos which our God created. “King of the Universe!” we call Him. It also represents time/seasons as each symbol corresponds to a month. Our great God also created time. You might recall the great Catholic hymn sung in advent, “Creator Alme Siderum” or “Creator of the Stars of Night.” (If you need a more specific and credited source see, Sings and Symbols in Christian Art" by George Ferguson.)There is nothing mysterious being represented here. You may refer to this site which will explain that while astrology itself was set aside, it did provide us with wonderful images that we have baptized. Consider the alternative which would be an apes with a snow flake, a candy heart, a kite, rain, flowers, etc. You’ve got to admit the symbols of the zodiac are much more impressive. Especially of you are 12 years old.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"In the apes of this building are all the symbols of the zodiac."

"Consider the alternative which would be an apes with a snow flake, a candy heart, a kite..."


Are you sure you don't mean apse ?