Place and Presence, Holy Hills and Sacred Cities

Angels in the Architecture

In classical times, the city was a sacred place, bounded by a wall, in which civilization occurred, and to live outside the city was to be uncivilized.  To be the founder of a city was to be god-like, so that there are at least six Alexandrias, the work of Alexander the Great; several Antiochs, named for the Seleucid kings; and Constantinople, the city founded on the Bosporus by the first Christian emperor.  Throughout the three millennia that separate us from Knossos and Mycenae, cities have been built for many reasons or for none.  Dallas, my hometown, was founded by John Neely Bryan at a crossing of the Trinity River where there were several Indians with whom he could trade.  One of the city’s boasts is that there is no reason at all for Dallas to be where it is, on no great harbor or navigable inland river, not (in 1841) at the intersection of great highways.  Dallas exists not of the will of God but of man, a fact in which the city fathers rejoice.  American cities grow up where they do because promoters establish them, because commercial opportunity exists, or because there must be a seat of justice and a repository of records.

There is an older, primordial pattern, however, that dictated that the city be built where the god of the city is worshiped, surrounding and providing context for the house of the god, even as the city’s god provides meaning, order, and protection.  In pre-Christian...

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