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Environment, Space, Place

Volume 1, Issue 1, Spring 2009

William Behun
Pages 7-25
DOI: 10.7761/ESP.1.1.7

To the Center of the Sky
Heidegger, Polar Symbolism, and Christian Sacred Architecture

Heidegger’s sense of the holy is an important aspect of his thought, especially in the form that it takes in his later work. By juxtaposing Heidegger’s thinking on the sacred with traditional metaphysician René Guénon’s examination of the symbolism of the sacred pole, we can bring both elements into clearer focus. This paper undertakes to draw together these two radically disparate thinkers not to undermine either’s project, but rather to demonstrate one way in which the sacred can be more thoroughly understood, especially in light of our increasing disregard for the experience of the divine in the modern world. The Heideggerian event of the sacred is played out in a way that is uniquely informed by polar symbols in the architecture of the great gothic cathedrals, and these prove to be a site for the opening up of the holy within space. When these elements are drawn together, they serve to reciprocally inform one another, deepening our understanding of the performative and spatial dimensions of our experience of the divine and opening the possibility of a relationship with God that is not bound by onto-theological constructions of the Godhead.