by Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe





SACRED or holy places are found in different cultures, past and present, all over the world. Such places are frequently marked or embellished by architectural structures and art.

One of my aims is to explore how and why places become invested with sacredness.


In most cases, it can be shown that the sacredness of a place is linked in some way to natural objects and features such trees, stones, water, mountains, caves, and forms in the landscape. It can further be shown that these natural objects and forms lie at the root of the forms and shapes employed to mark or embellish a sacred site.

These same sacred forms and shapes derived from natural objects and features become symbolic or emblematic of the sacred or divine.


When they are articulated in art and architecture, they become not only the 'abode' of the divine, but also serve as a means to entice the divine either to continue to reside at a given place or to take up residence at a new site.

Although the sacred places are often rich in aesthetic experience, I am more interested in the origins, meaning and function of the sacred objects, forms, symbols, and shapes that compose the art and architecture of a sacred place.


It is through the art and architecture that the sacred or the divine is manifest or represented.


The philosopher Plotinus (205-270 CE) explained it this way [Enneads, IV, 3. 11]:

Those ancient sages who fought to secure the presence of divine beings by the erection of shrines and statues, showed insight into the nature of the All; they perceived that, though the Soul is everywhere traceable, its presence will be secured all the more readily when an appropriate receptacle is elaborated, a place especially capable of receiving some portion or phase of it, something reproducing it, or representing it and serving like a mirror to catch an image of it.



  1. Sacredness

  2. The Sacred Cave

  3. Stones and the Sacred

  4. Mountains and the Sacred

  5. Trees and the Sacred

  6. Water and the Sacred

  7. Forms in the Landscape