Sacred space and the imagination

[ by Charles Cameron — no mil/intel stuff — the sacred, architecture, nature, books, imagination ]


This post began with a photo my friend William Benzon took of an abandoned passenger terminal in Liberty State Park:



Without the greenery, I don’t think I’d feel this was “special” in quite the same way.  I might see it as prison-like, akin to those magnificent Piranesi prints in his Carceri series:


… vast, haunted — the anti-cathedral.

Yet the grasses and small trees are there in Benzon’s photo, green and vibrant — and in their presence, the prison becomes a cathedral… not unlike the great ruined abbeys of England, Tintern, Calder, Whitby, Walsingham, Fountains.

Here’s Tintern Abbey by JMW Turner, for a sense of how ruins were viewed in his day:


Somehow, in the workings of the human mind and heart, nature’s grasses can keep a ruined space sacred…


But what of books?


The effect is austere by comparison, but the hush of the library slips into the high-vaulted silence of the cloister, and when I saw Bill Benzon’s photo above, this photo of a bookstore in Holland was the first analogy to cross my mind…

The Selexyz Dominicanen bookshop is housed in an old church in the centre of Maastricht. A beautiful listed building, this former Dominican church was transformed into a bookstore by architects Merkx+Girod, resulting in an extraordinary combination of bookselling complex and church interior, preserving the unique landmark setting. It was praised by British newspaper The Guardian as ‘possibly the world’s finest bookshop’. Earlier, Selexyz Dominicanen had already received the prestigious Lensvelt Architecture Interior Award 2007 for the décor of the store.

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