The Holy Spirit
[student, Rome Sketchbook course, Autumn 2012]
In ancient times the Sun was considered by many the most important divine being, so in most buildings illumination with sunlight played an important role because it also had a symbolic meaning; which is why architects tried to unite the power of the Sun with their constructions, the direction in which the building is oriented is fundamental in order to capture the rays of sunlight in a specific way. There are many examples in Rome which can represent this idea perfectly.
First of all, the Pantheon, an ancient temple which uses the shape of the dome to represent a model of the Universe, so through the hole (oculus) in the ceiling the light enters into the building casting a disc of light that represents the Sun, mirroring the movements of the sun throughout the year. The drawing above shows that there are seven alcoves around the interior, for the seven planets that move around the Earth.
Another monument that shows how the Ancient Romans used the Sun is the obelisc of Augustus' sundial. When it was working it was the shadow which was important because it is used to measure the time and date. As the Earth moves, the shadow cast by the obelisc points to specific spots.
In Christian churches light has a strong significance, because it enters and illuminates the space, like a symbol of God entering his house with the light of the Holy Spirit. In Christian representations God can be compared to the eternal light of the Sun, that is why the Saints are represented with a halo, because their minds have been illuminated with God's light. Even before Christianity some figures were represented with halos, one famous example is Apollo. It was a sign of divine approval for a ruler, like in Santa Maria Maggiore where King Herod is shown with a halo. This representation changes according to whether the person was alive when the image was made, living Popes have a square halo, perhaps because their illumination was limited, squared off, by the material body, but for the dead souls it is round. The Holy Spirit is shown often as a dove emanating rays of light in all directions.
Some curches use a particular method for illumination.First of all it depends on the important feast days of the church. The Sun rises at a different point on the horizon each day throughout the year, and at midday, from the south, it rises to different heights. This means that light can be directed to specific points in the building depending on how the Sun rises on different days of the year. For example, in Saint John Lateran we can see how the light enters through the upper windows and illuminates the different statues of the Apostles in the central aisle. Other churches like Saint Peter's and Santa Maria Maggiore are oriented to specific points on the horizon, in Saint Peter's, light entered the entrance at sunrise on the Spring Equinox connecting with the resurrected Christ. Santa Maria Maggiore points towards sunrise on the Winter Solstice, as Jesus, and the winter Sun, are born. The Mausoleum of Santa Costanza also uses light in a particular way; having an empty space in the ceiling which allows sunlight to enter during the summer and illuminate the point where Costanza's sarcophagus was located.