Architecture, Mysticism and Myth, by W.R. Lethaby, , at sacred-texts.com
' . . . That stellar concave spreading overhead, softly absorbed into me, rising so free interminably high, stretching east, west, north, south—and I, though but a point in the centre below, embodying all.'
THERE would seem to be delight and mystery inherent to the ideas of a boundary or a centre. Children show this by standing in two counties or parishes at the same time, and being much comforted thereby—only disappointed, like the little girl in Punch, that there are not pretty colours at the division, as on the maps. Do you not remember being told that the Town Hall 'at home' was the centre of the mileage of the diverging roads, and being much impressed by this, the middle of the world, which should have been specially marked by a 'golden milestone.' Paris, London, or Boston is the 'hub' of the universe to their several inhabitants. 'All roads lead to Rome.'
'Ah! Messer Greco,' George Eliot makes her cultured Barber, Nello, say of his shop 'Apollo and the Razor,' 'if you want to know the flavour of our scholarship, you must frequent my shop; it is the focus of Florentine intellect, and in that sense the navel of the earth, as my great predecessor Burchieilo
said of his shop, on the more frivolous pretension that his street of the Calimara was the centre of our city.'
When the earth was a plane surface with boundaries which were certain in form, if unknown in extent, 'the centre is with us' would be a claim advanced in a much more definite form by different countries or rival cities. On an Arab fountain in Sicily was the inscription, 'I am in the centre of the garden; this garden is the centre of Sicily, and Sicily of the whole world.'
The Mediterranean still preserves its name of the world's central sea. Maspero tells us the Chaldeans considered themselves better than their neighbours, and the centre of the world; and Professor Sayce that in the forest of Eridu—into the heart whereof man had not penetrated—was the 'centre of the earth' and the 'holy house of the gods.' The Egyptians, too considered they were the only true centre. 'The Egyptians were particularly remarkable for their great love for their country, which is also inherited by their successors. They considered it to be under the immediate protection of the gods and the centre of the world; they even called it the world itself; and it was thought to be the favoured spot where all created beings were first generated, while the rest of the earth was barren and uninhabited' (Wilkinson). Bunsen mentions a map of the world under the form of a human figure in which Egypt was the heart.
In 'Voyageurs Anciens' Charton says, 'Chaque peuple répondait avec une assurance naïve. "Le centre est chez moi"—For the Egyptians the centre was Thebes; for the Assyrians, Babylon; for the Hindus, Mount Meru; for the Jews, Jerusalem; for the Greeks, Olympus or the temple of Delphi, and later, in the time of Herodotus, Rhodes.' In the same collection
of travels a modern Arab view as to the form and centre of the world is given. God created the earth square, and covered with stones; and from the top of Mount Sinai, which is the centre of the world, traced a great circle whose circumference touched the four sides of the square. He then commanded the angels to throw all the stones into the corners, which correspond with the four cardinal points. The circle thus cleared was given to the Arabs, who are the children best beloved; then he called the four angles France, Italy, England, and Russia.
An inscription of a king of Susa (B.C. 710, 'Records of the Past') makes this claim for the 'Susian land, which is the first of the earth, and the centre of all mankind.'
It was the same with Persia—'The country of Iran is better than other places, for it is in the middle.'
China also has always been a specially favoured country, and its position is marked in its very name—the 'Middle Kingdom.' In the letter from the Emperor of China to the King of England in 1817 he claims that he has received from heaven the government of the world, and that China is 'the flourishing and central empire,' the source of good influences. The Hindus also have a name implying that their country is the centre, and the old Japanese poems call theirs the Middle Kingdom.
A confusion was likely to arise at once in regard to this centre, for the centre of the heavenly revolutions is seen to be in the north; hence the world mountain, the pivot of these revolutions also rose in the north. For instance, according to the 'Encyclopædia of India,' 'The Hindus at Bikanir Rajputana taught that the mountain Meru is in the centre surrounded by concentric circles of land and sea. Some Hindus
regard Mount Meru as the north pole. The astronomical views of the Puranas make the heavenly bodies turn round it.'
This world-mountain was Nizir to the Chaldeans, Olympus to the Greeks, Hara Berezaiti to the Persians of the Avesta, the later Alborz and Elburz; a transfer, as says Mme. Ragozin, of 'mythical heavenly geography to the earth.' This mountain—the solar hill of the Egyptians—we shall again refer to in the next two or three chapters. At its apex springs, the heaven tree on which the solar bird is perched. From its roots spring the waters of life—the celestial sea, which, rushing adown the firmament, supplies the ocean which circumscribes the earth or falls directly in rain. At their fountain these springs are guarded by a goddess. In Egypt Nut, the goddess of the oversea, leans from the branches of the heavenly persea and pours forth the celestial water. In the Vedas, Yama, lord of the waters, sits in the highest heaven in the midst of the heavenly ocean under the tree of life, which drops the nectar Soma, and here, on the 'navel of the waters,' matter first took form. In the Norse, the central tree Yggdrasil has at its roots the spring of knowledge guarded by the Norns, the northern Fates; two swans the parents of all those of earth, float there. In Chaldea the mighty tree of Eridu, centre of the world, springs by the waters. The Avesta gives a very complete picture—Iran is at the centre of the seven countries of the world; it was the first created, and so beautiful, that were it not that God has implanted in all men a love for their own land, all nations would crowd into this the loveliest land. To the east somewhere, but still at the centre of the world, rises the 'Lofty Mountain,' from which all the mountains of the earth have grown, 'High Haraiti;' at its
summit is the gathering place of waters, out of which spring the two trees, the heavenly Haoma (Soma), and another tree which bears all the seeds that germinate on earth. This heavenly mountain is called 'Navel of Waters,' for the fountain of all waters springs there, guarded by a majestic and beneficent goddess. In Buddhist accounts, the waters issue in four streams like the
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Sir John Maundeville gives an account of the earthly Paradise quite perfect in its detailed scheme. It is the highest place on earth, nearly reaching to the circle of the moon (as in Dante), and the flood did not reach it. 'And in the highest place, exactly in the middle, is a well that casts out the four streams'—Ganges, Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates. 'And men there beyond say that all the sweet waters of the world above and beneath take their beginning from the well of Paradise, and out of that well all waters
come and go.' The illustration is from the Hereford Map.
In the Odyssey—which appears to be a voyage to the three worlds by a Greek Dante, and parallel, as Mr Andrew Lang has remarked, to an old Indian tale in which the hero sets off to find the city of gold—Ulysses, after visiting the country of Cyclops and other lands evidently beyond the verge of civilisation, law, and order, goes to the isle of Æolus, King of the winds, and to the island of Circe, where is the 'dancing place of the dawn.' He descends to the underworld and explores it; returning, he passes the gates of the firmament, the clashing mountains, and comes to the isle of the Sun, and shipwrecked, he alone reaches the isle of Calypso, and remains eight years; but then leaving her, comes at last to divine Scheria, paradise, and city of gold, 'far off from men that live by bread.' Then asleep in a magic bark he is conveyed to earth and home.
This island of the lone goddess Calypso is Ogygia, 'where is the navel of the sea,' far removed on a 'wondrous space of brine whereby is no city of mortals;' 'and, lo, there about the hollow cave trailed a gadding garden vine all rich with clusters. And fountains four set orderly were running with clear water hard by one another, turned each to his own course. And all around soft meadows bloomed of violets and parsley.' Can we doubt that Calypso is the guardian goddess of the heavenly spring, of the four streams that supply the earth? Can we doubt that this 'outer zone' of Ulysses’ voyages is on the oversea, thus making a complete pendant to the underworld. As a parallel let us remark how closely Lucian follows all this in his Satire, reaching upperworld and lower world in a ship. The heavenly spring is, of course, the fountain of the water of life, and Ulysses ought
certainly to have drunk of it like the traveller of the Egyptian Ritual of the Dead. What did the hero of the Odyssey go there for if not to bring back a true report of such a remarkable place? Duncker says of Athene, 'She is the spirit of this fountain itself.'
All the scheme is rational enough; men wanting to explain the rain, the moving tides and flowing rivers of earth, supposed a perennial fountain rose in the heavens, four streams from which flowed down the heavenly vault, and entering by certain openings, circled round the ocean stream, and then fell into the abyss: Acheron, Pyriphlegethon, Cocytus, and Styx, probably have their origin in this thought.
To return to the Middleworld. Sung-Yun, the Chinese traveller in India to collect Buddhist records (518 A.D.), speaking of the great mountain country, the watershed of the Indus and Oxus, still called the Roof of the World, says: ‘After entering the Tsung-Ling mountains step by step, we crept upwards for four days, and reached the highest point of the range. From this point as a centre, looking downwards, it seemed just as though we were poised in mid-air. Men say that this is the middle point of heaven and earth. The people of this region use the water of the rivers for irrigating their lands; and when they were told that in the Middle Kingdom (China) the fields were watered by the rain, they laughed and said, 'How could heaven produce enough for all?' Hiuen Tsiang (A.D. 629) says that at the central point of the world, in the mountains of Pamir, there was a lake blue and bottomless; out of it flowed two streams to east and west, supplying the waters of the world.
When China received Buddhism there arose a difficulty as to the Middle Kingdom; for the orthodox said that India, where Buddha lived, was the middle
land, 'as shown by the gnomon which at the summer solstice in that latitude casts no shadow. China, they say, cannot so well be called the central kingdom, because there is a shadow on the day mentioned' (Edkins). Fa-Hian was disliked by his countrymen for admitting the superior claim of India. It shows how the human mind works in fixed grooves to find Sir John Maundeville giving the same 'proof' of the gnomon for the central position of Jerusalem.
The Greeks seem to have attached great mystic and ritual importance to the centre. Delphi was the navel of all Greece, but Crete had an omphalos, and a story was attached regarding the birth of Jupiter. Pausanias mentions an omphalos at Phlius marking the centre of the Peloponnese. In Sicily the modern Castro Giovanni occupies the site of Enna, Umbilicus Siciliæ, and this was the place where Persephone was carried away from the upper world. In Babylon also it was at the world's centre that Tammuz made his descent, for here is the lid stone of the lower world. Each separate worship appears to have its 'Kibleh,' Delos for Apollo, Paphos for Venus, and Delphi the ancient hearth of Hestia. At Megara the altar was the omphalos.
Mount Cronios in Olympia, Lenormant says, 'was the omphalos of the sacred city of Elis, the primitive centre of worship.' It is easy to see that this 'centre of worship,' this 'centre of the earth where is the holy house of the gods,' was likely to become identified with a building, the ancient mother temple of a people, be it at Babylon, at Delphi, or at Mecca. Brugsch says, 'The Egyptians, like the ancients in general, commenced the foundation of their towns by the construction of a temple, which formed the centre of the town that was to be built.'
Delphi to the Greeks was pre-eminently the centre
of the world; here was the famous and ancient temple of Apollo, the god who, as Plato has it, 'sits in the centre on the navel of the earth.'
Has Delphi taken over this tradition as being seated on Parnassus, the mountain of the flood of Deucalion? And do the other stories of Parnassus and the spring of poesy arise from its being associated with another tradition of the earthly paradise?
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In the description before given of the peplos representing the universe woven by Harmonia, we have seen how 'she first represented the earth with its omphalos in the centre:' but this centre of the world is not only to be found in ideal poet-made designs, it was realised in architecture. On the floor of the temple of Delphi was a stone 'called by the Delphians the Navel, according to their tradition, the centre of the world' (Pausanias). The story was told, that to determine the true centre of the earth, Jupiter sent out two eagles, one from the east, the other from the west, and they met at this spot.
According to Strabo, two gold eagles were placed at the sides of the omphalos. This composition is
preserved to us by a marble found in Sparta. As early as Pindar these golden birds of Zeus are mentioned, but later marble sculpture or mosaic represented them. On the vases we have many contemporary drawings of this composition (see T. H. Middleton in Jour. Hellenic Soc., vol. ix.): in most of these the sacred stone is shown of the form of half an egg, raised on a step on which the birds stood 'affronted;' other representations show the egg form complete: it was decorated by fillets, leafy branches, and netted work.
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This centre stone of the whole world seems to have profoundly touched the Greek imagination; and among the multitude of references to it, it has a part in the tragedies of Æschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. The first scene of the 'Eumenides' takes place in the outer court of the oracle—A priestess passes into the Adytum, but returns crouching with fear, supporting herself against the walls:—
[paragraph continues] Orestes, pursued by the Furies, has taken sanctuary in the temple of Apollo, and the matricide is thus
discovered on the centre-stone of the world, of the universe, a 'God-loathed man,' while his sword still drips with his mother's blood.
We may see embodied in this myth of the centre stone the result of the general direction of thought; as each people were certainly 'the people' first born and best beloved of the gods, so their country occupied the centre of the world. It would be related how the oldest and most sacred city, or rather temple, was erected exactly on the navel. A story like this told of a temple would lead to the marking in the centre of its area the true middle point by a circular stone, a stone which would become most sacred and ceremonial in its import. Such a tendency seems to lie close to the root of ideas; Professor Smyth in his interpretation of the great Pyramid thought that it marked in a special way the world's centre.
In the rites of Greece and Rome it was the hearth that was specially identified with the omphalos and so in Latin we have 'focus,' and in French 'foyer,' at once hearth and centre.
'According to Pythagoras, the fire of Hestia (foyer du monde) was at the centre of the earth and the world.'
'In this sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi (formerly dedicated to Hestia), near the stone omphalos was the altar of the sacred fire of Hestia, the goddess who symbolised the stability of the earth. In the primitive Greek houses of a circular form the hearth was at the centre, and the smoke found its way out at the apex. Each Greek city had its prytaneum in form of a rotunda (tholos), an edifice consecrated to Hestia; and the hearth sacred to the city was placed under the centre of the vault, in the same way that the foyer of Delphi—foyer common to all Greeks—
was under the summit of the heavenly vault' (Dictionnaire des Antiquités).
The Prytaneum was the civic hall, the pole of the city life, and here, on the focus of the town, was kept alight the undying fire of Hestia; for just as the family life centred around the hearth, so political life surrounded the city hearth, from which colonists going from the mother town took of the sacred central fire to establish their own prytaneum; and if in after time it ceased to burn, the metropolis was again the source of new fire. So it was that, according to tradition, Æneas brought from Troy the sacred fire, which was maintained by the Vestals in the circular temple of the Forum.
A mystery still clings to the hearth, and it still is the centre of the world. It seems a part of the Aryan inheritance; for while the nations were as yet unseparated, 'the hearth was in the midst of the dwelling; that hearth was to each member of the household, as it were, an umbilicus orbis, or navel of the earth. . . Hearth being only another form of earth, as in the German erde and herde' (Keary, 'Dawn of History'). It has been suggested that this early home was a circular roofed hut, and thus a sky-like canopy to the central fire.
A central circle was found in the palace at Tiryns. Dr Schliemann writes: 'In the exact centre of the hall, and therefore within the square enclosed by the four pillars, there is found in the floor a circle of about 3.30 m. diameter. There can be little doubt that this circle indicates the position of the hearth in the centre of the megaron. The hearth was in all antiquity the centre of the house, about which the family assembled, at which food was prepared, and where the guest received the place of honour. Hence it is frequently indicated by poets and philosophers as the navel or
centre of the house. In the oldest time it was not only symbolically, but actually the centre of the house, and especially of the megaron. It was only in later days, in the great palaces of the Romans, that it was removed from the chief rooms and established in a small by-room. . . . It is hardly an accidental circumstance that, in the middle of the largest hall in the pergamos of the Homeric Troy, a large circle is to be seen in the centre of the floor. . . . There can be no doubt that at Troy too the spacious hall, with its vestibule, was the megaron, and the circle in its centre marked the place of the hearth.'
The imperial palace at Constantinople, which must have been the topstone of the world's art in building—embodying as it did all knowledge and tradition, Classic and Christian, and gathering for material all the splendours of the earth—had on the floors of those wonderful rooms, the design of which we can still follow in the descriptions collated by Labarte (Palais Imp. Cons.), sacred hearth or navel stones. 'The floor of Chalce was composed of beautiful marble mosaic; below the dome in the pavement was a large slab of porphyry, of circular form, to which they gave the name of Omphalion.' The Emperor, after having bought back for a large sum certain bonds, to which citizens of Constantinople had put their hands, burnt these bonds upon the omphalion of porphyry in Chalce. We also find an omphalion encased in the pavement of the grand triclinium of Justinian; they existed in other rooms of the palace, and notably in front of the thrones. The Emperor stood on these slabs of porphyry at certain ceremonies, and his passing over or pausing on them seems to have been the occasion for those present to prostrate themselves before him.
On the floor of St Peter's, in Rome, there is a
circular slab of antique porphyry, 8 ft. 6 in. in diameter, on which, tradition says, every emperor since Charlemagne stood at coronation. The Popes also on it performed certain official acts. Ducange mentions an omphalos in Sancta Sophia; it was directly under the dome, and called meso-naos, omphalos, or mes-omphalos.
Whether the temple of Vesta in Rome, close to the Forum, was or was not at any time actually a geographical centre, it is certain that the Forum contained such an one in the Milliarum aureum Umbilicus Urbis, which had on it the names and distances of the towns on the roads which here met at a centre from all Italy. As some late writers speak of the omphalos as distinct from the golden milestone, and as the foundations of two circular structures have been discovered in the Forum, Mr. Middleton is inclined to look on one as the milestone, and the other as the omphalos. The sacred stone on the Palatine, mentioned in the last chapter, would seem to have been the omphalos of primitive Rome, 'the city of Romulus.' Mr Gomme tells us a stone was always set up at the establishment of primitive villages, and that London Stone is an example.
If we go to the west, the centre is there. 'The historian of Yucatan describes a celebrated sanctuary known as "the centre and foundation of heaven," which was the object of great veneration' (Charnay); and M. Réville quotes Garcilasso, the native historian of Peru, who says that Cuzco, the sacred city, was founded by the gods, and 'its name signifies navel.' 'Splendid roads stretched from Cuzco towards the four quarters of the heavens.' And again, 'The great Teocalli of Mexico commanded the four chief roads that parted from its base to unite the capital to all the countries beneath the sceptre of its rulers. It was
the palladium of the empire.' The roads diverge in this way from the great Lamassary of the holy city of Thibet, which is also a world centre. The 'four cross roads' of old English customs were probably of so much consequence, because such a situation established a sympathetic magic with the universe.
If we go to the far East, the stone of foundation is there. In Japan the world is carried on an enormous leviathan the Earthquake fish (Jishin-uwo), and when it moves there is an earthquake; one god only can then quiet it, and this he does 'by pinning it down with the Kaua-mi-ishi, or 'rivet rock of the world.' As every Japanese knows, this stone is in the province of Hitachi' (The 'Century,' Jan. 1890). Two temples at Isé form the kibleh of Shintoism, toward which the people turn in prayer.
There appears from Grimm (Teut. Myth.) to have been such a stone known to the Northern nations as the 'Dille-Stein,' or Lid of Hell; he compares it with the lapis manalis that closed the mouth of the Etruscan Mundus. In the Talmud there was access to the lower world at Jerusalem, although the whole world was but a 'pot-lid' to hell.
In India the great iron pillar of Delhi, standing amidst the ruins of the old capital, was set up in the fourth century; later, in the twelfth century, the great Mohammedan Mosque of the Imperial City was built round it as the exact middle point of its vast court. The pillar commemorated the power of a Raja who, as the inscription reads, 'obtained with his own arm an undivided sovereignty over the earth.' A Holy Braman assured a Raja of the eighth century that the pillar had been driven so deeply into the earth that it rested on the head of Vasuki, the serpent king, who supports the world, and consequently had become immovable, whereby the dominion was insured for
ever to the dynasty of its founder as long as the pillar stood. The incredulous Raja ordered the monument to be dug up, when it was found to be reddened with the blood of the serpent king (Hunter's Gaz. of India). We have here probably a Braman centre in opposition to the sacred site of the Buddhists. In Southern India the Temple of Mandura is the centre of the Tamil people; here in the inmost sanctuary a rock, symbol of Siva, crops out of the floor. 'Its roots are said to be in the centre of the earth, and to have been there since the Creation.' Here the kings were taken when about to die (Clements Markham).
In China, the centre of the ancient royal cult is the altar or temple of heaven, in the old city of Pekin. One stone circular and flawless forms the centre of zone after zone of marble steps and terraces. 'Here the Emperor kneels, and is surrounded first by the circles of the terraces and their enclosing walls, and then by the circle of the horizon. He thus seems to himself and his court to be in the centre of the universe, and, turning to the north, assuming the attitude of a subject, he acknowledges in prayer that he is inferior to heaven and to heaven alone' (Edkins. see Williamson's Journeys).
Gaya is the great Holy Place of Buddhism, the Mecca of its sites; here Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree when he reached complete enlightenment. While he was yet seeking there came to him a voice saying that he was to find a Pipal tree, under which was a 'diamond throne.' All the past Buddhas seated on this throne have obtained true enlightenment (Beal).
The Bodhi tree itself as described by Hiuen Tsiang was surrounded by an enclosure which was long east and west, and narrow north and south, with four gates to the cardinal points. 'In the middle of the enclosure is the diamond throne, when the great earth
arose this also appeared. It is the middle of the great Chiliocosm; it goes down to the limits of the golden wheel, and upwards it is flush with the ground. It is composed of diamonds; in circuit it is a hundred paces or so. . . . It is the place where the Buddhas attain the sacred path of Buddahood. When the great earth is shaken this spot alone is unmoved. Therefore when Tathagata was about to reach the condition of enlightenment, and he went successively to the four angles of this enclosure, the earth shook and quaked; but afterwards coming to this spot, all was still and at rest. When the true law decays and dies it will be no longer visible.'
The Chiliocosm is not this world alone, but the whole assemblage of worlds—the universe. Sir M. Williams tells us a stone marked with nine concentric circles is still shown at Gaya as the Diamond Throne.
Jerusalem has been to Jews and Christians the centre of the world, 'beautiful for situation, joy of the whole earth.' What the Temple was as a centre of worship is shown by Solomon's dedicatory prayer and by Daniel's open window toward Zion. The following is the direction as to prayer in the Talmud: 'Those who are in foreign countries beyond the borders of Palestine ought in praying to turn their faces towards the sacred land as it is written, "They shall address their prayer to Thee by the way of the land which Thou hast given to their ancestors" (1 Kings viii. 48). Those who dwell in Palestine direct their countenance towards Jerusalem, for it is written, "They shall pray unto Thee towards the city which Thou hast chosen." Those who make their prayer in Jerusalem turn towards the mount of the Temple, as it is said in the same verse, "And the house which I have builded in Thy name." Those who are upon the mount of the
temple turn towards the Holy of Holies. "They shall address their prayer to Thee in this place, and Thou wilt hear it in heaven Thy dwelling-place, Thou wilt hear it and will pardon." Hence it follows that those of the north should turn towards the south, those of the south towards the north, the men of the east towards the west, the men of the west towards the east, so that all Israel shall turn in the act of prayer.'
But not only was it a ceremonial centre; it was geographically the midst of the earth; and the following from the Talmud (Hershon) shows that to the Rabbis the Temple had an omphalion stone, and that it was built not only on a rock, but on the rock.
'The world is like the eyeball of man; the white is the ocean that surrounds the world, the black is the world itself, and the pupil is Jerusalem, and the image in the pupil is the Temple.'
'The world's "foundation stone" sank to the depths under the Temple of the Lord, and upon this the sons of Korah used to stand and pray.'
'The land of Israel is situated in the centre of the world, and Jerusalem in the centre of the land of Israel, and the Temple in the centre of Jerusalem, and the Holy of Holies in the centre of the Temple, and the foundation stone on which the world was grounded is situated in front of the ark.'
'When the ark was removed a stone was there from the days of the first prophets; it was called Foundation. It was three digits high above the earth.'
The great temple of Bel, the most ancient, most sacred temple at Babylon, was called, Professor Sayce tells us, in his Hibbert Lectures, 'the house of the foundation stone of heaven and earth.' In Jerusalem the 'Dome of the Rock,' El Sakhrah, occupying the traditional site of the temple
sanctuary, surrounds a mass of the living rock, the bare summit of Mount Moriah, which for about sixty by forty feet crops out of the beautiful paving; under it is the 'Well of Souls;' and the Turkish Pacha told Sir Charles Warren 'it lay on the top leaves of a palm tree, from the roots of which spring all the rivers of the world.' Nusir-i-Khusran, who visited the sites in 1033 A.D., says that God commanded Moses to make
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this stone the kibleh, and later Solomon built the temple about it as a centre. From it the four doors open, as an early pilgrim says, to the four quarters of the world. In Mohammedan tradition this rock is the world's foundation stone. It is known to them as the kibleh (point of adoration, centre) of Moses. Mahomet thought at first of adopting it in the place of the old Arab centre of Mecca,
well understanding the religious need of such an omphalos to Eastern thought, as in it the idea of separation from others is most forcibly expressed. The Prophet says, 'Verily although thou shouldest show unto those to whom the Scripture hath been given all kinds of signs, yet they will not follow thy kibleh, neither shalt thou follow their kibleh; nor will one part of them follow the kibleh of the other.' At the last day, however, even the black stone of Mecca will come as a bride to the rock of Jerusalem, and thus arises any confusion there may be as to the world centre of Islam. The late Professor Palmer tells us what the rock is to those in Jerusalem: 'This Sakhrah is the centre of the world, and on the day of resurrection the angel Israfil will stand upon it to blow the last trumpet; it is also eighteen miles nearer heaven than any other place in the world; and beneath it is the source of every drop of sweet water that flows on the face of the earth; it is supposed to be suspended miraculously between heaven and earth. The effect upon the spectators was, however, so startling that it was found necessary to place a building round it and conceal the marvel.'
The Samaritans still look to Gerizim as their holy mountain. 'This is their kibleh, to which they turn in prayer wherever they may be' (Warren). 'Our fathers worshipped in this mountain, and ye say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.'
Of Hermon Miss Beaufort wrote: 'It is remarkable that Hermon was anciently encompassed by a circle of temples all facing the summit. Can it be that this mountain was the great sanctuary of Baal, and that it was to the old Syrians what Jerusalem was to the Jews, and what Mecca is to the Moslems?' One of these temples has sculptured on the side towards the
mountain a huge watching face. Another Syrian temple, that of Mabog (Hierapolis), seems to have been a world centre and well of the abyss; this city occupied the site of Carchemish, the capital of the Hittites, and it is probably their rites and legends that were continued here. The temple stood in the very centre of the 'Holy City,' and it was built (so went the legend) by their Noah directly over the chasm where the waters of the Deluge had been swallowed up (Sayce Hittites). At Jerusalem also there was a cleft in which the waters of the flood disappeared' (Robertson Smith, Semites). Pausanias says there was a cavity in the precincts of the temple of Olympia where the waters of the deluge escaped.
To the Mohammedans generally the Caaba at Mecca is the true centre, lowered as it was directly from Paradise under which it stands, and to it all Islam turns in prayer, 'Turn thy face towards the temple of Mecca, and whenever ye pray, turn your faces towards that place' (Koran). In an account of modern schools in Cairo, Mr Loftie says, 'The children learn that it takes five hundred years of travelling to get round the mighty plain, while perhaps a few yards from the school door hangs one of Mr Cook's placards offering to do the whole business in ninety days. The one important fact which the children retain is, that Mecca is the centre of the earth.' All mosques look to this kibleh.
To the early Christians and throughout the Middle Ages Jerusalem was the centre. Jerome calls it the navel of the world, and Clement of Alexandria remarks that the outer court of the Tabernacle was, 'they say,' the middlemost point of heaven and earth. Arculf in 670 A.D. tells us that Jerusalem being in the middle, was called the 'navel of the earth,' and he gives the proof of the shadowless pillar. In the time of Abbot
[paragraph continues] Daniel's visit (1106) the centre was canopied by a small dome on pillars. The Hereford map of the thirteenth century shows the world as a plane circle surrounded by ocean, round whose borders are the eaters of men and the one-eyed, the half men and 'those whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders.' Within this border we find everything that heart could desire, the red sea is very red, the pillars of Hercules are pillars indeed; there is the terrestrial paradise enclosed by a battlemented wall; and unicorns, manticoras, salamanders, and other beasts of fascinating habits are clearly shown on the lands where they live. The centre of all is Jerusalem, a circular walled town, within which again is a smaller circle, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The central position of Jerusalem was not given up when it became accepted as a fact that the earth was a sphere. Dante holds both for true, and this is how Sir John Maundeville reconciles any difficulty: 'In going from Scotland or from England towards Jerusalem, men go always upwards, for our land is in the low part of the earth, towards the west; and the land of Prester John is in the low part of the world towards the east; and they have the day when we have the night, and, on the contrary, they have the night when we have the day; for the earth and sea are of a round form, as I have said before; and as men go upward towards one part, they go downward to another. Also you have heard me say that Jerusalem is in the middle of the world; and that may be proved and shown there by a spear which is fixed in the earth at the hour of mid-day, when it is equinoctial, which gives no shadow on any side.'
The Greek Church still accepts Jerusalem as the middle of the world, and in their portion of the Holy Sepulchre point it out to unbelieving tourists to-day.
'The Greeks,' says Curzon, 'have possession of the choir of the church which is opposite the door. This part of the building is of great size, and is magnificently decorated with gold and carving and stiff pictures of the saints. In the centre is a globe of black marble on a pedestal, under which they say the head of Adam was found; and you are told also that this is the exact centre of the globe.'
His plan shows this by the sign
'THE CENTRE OF THE WORLD.'