The Gothic Enterprise: A Guide to Understanding the Medieval Cathedral

By Robert A. Scott | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10
Sacred Force and Sacred Space

The Concept of the Sacred

My colleague William Mahrt, a professor of music at Stanford University, specializes in medieval church music and liturgy. I once asked him what a cathedral is for. A cathedral, he replied, exists for the performance of liturgy. He then explained that liturgy refers to the language, gestures, and actions that members of a religious body use to commune with and venerate God. The Oxford English Dictionary defines liturgy similarly, as the authorized forms of rites, observances, and procedures prescribed by the church for public worship. Communication with God is engaged in as an end in itself and also in the hope that God will adopt and retain a benevolent attitude toward those who worship Him and toward the groups on whose behalf they pray.

Most people probably imagine God as a force that is omnipresent. At the same time, people also believe that God is uniquely present and available to them in certain places for veneration and worship, and that the divine is uniquely concentrated in certain objects. Such places are sacred spaces, and such objects, sacred objects. Gothic cathedrals, of course, are prime examples of sacred spaces, and the relics, statuary, altars, and other material objects they contain are examples of sacred objects.

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