Monday, March 12, 2012

Gardens and God

I find it remarkable, that in so many ancient and medieval cultures around the world, gardens and garden design are closely associated with understandings of paradise, heaven and human's relationship to God.  In Islamic and Christian cultures, this is perhaps explained in part because of the story of the Garden of Eden, an original place for humans free of sin and close to God, but this association between gardens and god is more widespread than that.

The Paradise Garden, or Chahar bagh was a classic garden form in ancient Persia with a central water source, and four water channels flowing out of it, north, south, east and west, representing the four rivers of paradise (water, wine, honey, and milk).

Plan of a Chahar bagh Image Source

The form of the Chahar bagh was the inspiration for the gardens at the Taj Mahal, in 1632 in India. In the photo, you can see the central water source and four out-flowing channels.

Taj Mahal, 1632 Image Source

In Medieval and Renaissance Europe, walled cloister gardens became closely associated with the culturally important virtues of purity and chastity in women, and thus with the most holy of chase women, the Virgin Mary.  She was often painted in a walled garden.

Leonardo da Vinci Annunciation, oil on panel, 1472 

And in Ming Dynasty China (1368-1644) the important Temple of Heaven Garden was built, full of the motifs of circle, representing heaven, and square, representing earth, as if to say a garden is where heaven and earth mingle.

Temple of Heaven Garden, 1420 image source

What feelings are evoked in you by gardens?  Think about formal gardens, personal gardens, botanical gardens... how is their structure symbolic or evocative?

1 comment:

  1. A garden, even a tiny one (zen garden on a table?) if you connect with it, can be a soothing place to go to several times a day. You know how often I check my tiny little seedlings right? Stress relief.