Summer School 2021

Sacred places: mystery, journey, perfection

Emeritus Professor Julian Cooke, University of Cape Town

The course is an exploration of the architecture of sacred places.  The intention is to explore three spatial themes and some of the ways are they are interwoven in different times and places: the mystery of existence, the journey towards enlightenment and the experience of perfect harmony.

It starts with the mystery of existence as expressed in San caves of Africa, in ancient Egypt and in early Christian architecture in Egypt and Ethiopia.  Domed, cave-like early Christian spaces in Ravenna and Istanbul are scanned, as are early mosques in Egypt and Spain.  The second focus is on the idea of sacred space as a journey from the mundane to the divine, culminating in the French High Gothic cathedral.  Thirdly the exploration shifts to the means used, such as proportion and geometry, to make spaces representative of divine perfection. Finally there is a brief examination of contemporary sacred places, mainly churches, with the aim to elicit new interpretations of old themes.


  1. The sacred cave: religious places in Egypt, Ethiopia and India
  2. Boundlessness and mystery: domed churches in Byzantine Ravenna and Istanbul; mosques as hypostyle halls in Spain and India
  3. Spaces as a journey to God: the longitudinal basilican form from the earliest churches to French High Gothic cathedrals
  4. Spaces to embody divine perfection: the Greek temple, centralised Renaissance churches and Islamic mosques and tombs
  5. Contemporary sacred spaces: the search for the new.

This course will be offered on the Microsoft Teams platform. Participants will be sent a link.

Recommended reading

James, E.O. 1965. From Cave to Cathedral. London: Thames & Hudson.

Nuttgens, P. !983. The Story of Architecture. Oxford: Phaidon Press Ltd.

Panofsky, E. 1951. Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism. London: Thames & Hudson.

Wittkower, R. 1952.  Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism. London: Alex Tiranti Ltd.


Date: 2529 January
Time: 9.15 am