Columns and Trees

by James Shine
[student, Rome Sketchbook course, Spring 2012]

the column of the basilica of saint mary major, rome
The Column of Saint Mary Major
It is impossible to visit Rome and not notice one particular architectural element in great abundance: the column. In ruins of ancient public buildings, in contemporary buildings, and in glorious churches, these columns are to be seen all over the modern and ancient city.

From whence these columns? Perhaps this can be seen by taking a look at where they are especially common, that is, pagan temples and Christian churches. Have columns always had a certain religious connection, being so common in places of worship?

Perhaps one should return to the earliest places of worship: not the basilicas of Christianity, or even the ancient roman pagan temples, but the outdoors, under the open sky and the stars. These would be the days of sacrifice in open groves, surrounded only by 'columns' of a sort, that is, by trees in a sacred grove. A spot on the earth, made sacred through the enclosure of either walls or trees, or something to signify it as being 'set apart' from the rest of the world. While originally just open fields, maybe groves or pathways surrounded by trees, one could even imagine this evolution by comparing the nave of a basilica with a tree lined avenue.

palm tree
palm tree
Man has always sought to replicate nature in his art, architecture and music. Perhaps this is just another example of that, taking an idea from the divine creation, such as a tree, and transferring it to a place of worship as a stone column in a temple or church.
nave of Saint Mar Major and a tree lined avenue
nave of Saint Mar Major and a tree lined avenue