Manchester Monastery is a masterpiece of Victorian Gothic sacred architecture designed by the famous Victorian architect, Edward Welby Pugin. But what exactly – you may ask – is sacred architecture and does it have a religious significance?
Cathedrals, churches or religious places of worship can all be called sacred spaces and Manchester Monastery certainly fits this description, even though it is now deconsecrated.
What is sacred architecture?
Sacred architecture encompasses much more than just a sacred space. It means that knowledge, used by the builders of ancient sacred architecture, is integral to the design of a building.
Builders of ancient sacred architecture used principles of harmony and resonance to create a sense of reverence and awe for those visiting. This was particularly useful in a religious building where it could create a sense of majesty and wonder.
Religious structures throughout history, but particularly in medieval times, incorporated sacred dimensions in their design and construction processes. Examples of this are Chartres Cathedral in France, the Convent de Cristo in Portugal and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. References in texts to ancient architecture built using sacred dimensions – such as Solomon’s Temple referred to in the Bible – suggest the importance of these proportions to past societies and civilizations.
Sacred geometry (also known as the golden ratio or divine proportion) is part of our natural world and the mathematical principles at work within it. It can be seen perfectly displayed in a nautilus shell which forms a logarithmic spiral as it grows. Have you noticed the spiral that is formed as a fern frond grows?
There is a visual harmony in these geometric patterns. Buildings designed using these mathematical principles also display these qualities of harmony.
Harmony and resonance
Harmony can also be found in the acoustics and resonance of a building – meaning that space can reverberate and carry sound in a useful way. This can ensure that a congregation can hear a sermon in a religious building, or that voices in a choir can be heard more clearly.
Experiencing this harmonic resonance can provide an uplifting experience, helping us in that moment to feel more connected to those around us and less burdened by our worries. For some, these moments can provide feelings of such awe and peace that they feel lifted above their daily struggles. This is sometimes described as a transcendental experience.
An ancient wisdom
Sacred geometry is not often included in mainstream curriculums of schools of architecture, although its broader principles for creating harmony using symmetry and proportion are widely known.
A deeper understanding of sacred geometry and symbology (the use of symbols often with a religious meaning) was passed down through generations of stonemasons – whose stone carvings are rich with messages and depictions of stories.
Sacred geometry at Manchester Monastery
Visitors to Manchester Monastery are often surprised, and sometimes moved, by the awe-inspiring space that they find here. It’s common for visitors to tell us that they feel that their spirits have lifted, or that they have a more positive mindset after spending time in the building.
As countless visitors testify, Manchester Monastery feels like a building with a heart.
Undoubtedly, the elegance of the architecture and the uplifting atmosphere that it creates provides an enjoyable experience for visitors. They may also engage with the sense of history here – the hundreds of individuals who toiled to build it and the thousands who have visited it.
There may be another reason that so many people feel a special connection to this heritage site.
Manchester Monastery is a little unusual as it is a relatively modern religious building thought to be built on the same sacred geometric principles as used at some religious sites in the medieval period. What makes us even more unusual is that when we decided to build a new Welcome Wing in 2015 we consulted with geomancers (to divine the site) and used an architect who designs using these principles, so that the symmetry and the resonance of the overall site remained in perfect harmony.
Explore these ancient principles of design at Manchester Monastery
Join a tour of the monastery or come along to one of our workshops.
These are great ways to experience or learn more about sacred architecture, sacred geometry, symbology, and harmonic resonance in buildings.