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Architecture, Mysticism and Myth, by W.R. Lethaby, [1892], at

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'. . . The sea, flat like a pavement of lapis-lazuli, ascended imperceptibly to the sky on the horizon.'—FLAUBERT.

IN the 'Stones of Venice' Mr Ruskin wrote of the floors of the basilicas of Murano and St Mark: 'We feel giddy at the first step we make on the pavement, for it is of Greek mosaic, waved like the sea, and dyed like a dove's neck.' 'Round the domes of its roof the light enters only through narrow apertures, like large stars; and here and there a ray or two from some far-away casement wanders into the darkness, and casts a narrow phosphoric stream upon the waves of the marble that heave and fall in a thousand colours along the floor.'

Mr Street, in 1854, described 'the wild beauty of the pavement' in St Mark's as swelling up and down like a petrified sea; and he went on to suggest that this undulation of surface was an intentional making of the floor in the semblance of the sea. This, magnificent as it would be as imagination, has not generally been approved, and the balance of evidence from technical examinations of the construction and settlements is against the theory. As a parallel, Mr Street referred to the pavement of the 'Mother Church' at Constantinople as representing water in its design; but the floor is entirely covered with matting, and it has never been drawn, nor precisely described.

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The story of its representing water which appears in many recent books on Constantinople, is borrowed from Von Hammer's description of the church. The original is given by Codinus, an officer of the Imperial palace at Constantinople, who wrote an account of Sta. Sophia in the fifteenth century, from which a friend has made the following extracts. In the church, as finished by Justinian, 'the varied hues of the pavement were like the ocean.' This was destroyed when the roof fell in; and in the repairs undertaken by Justin, the nephew of Justinian, 'as he could not otherwise obtain variegated stones, he sent Marses, the patrician, to Proconnesus to quarry marble as near like it as possible. Four rivers of leek-green marble were laid, like the four streams which flow from Paradise to the sea.' The marbles named are those known to us as pavonazzetto and verde antico: and some friends who examined the floor, as far as it might be seen through the chinks of 'that accursed matting,' say that it is laid in slabs of whitish marble with green bands; but it is impossible without more evidence to say that this is the original floor.

It is only in story that we can find ideal architecture—the pure thought unrelated to cost and utility. The romance writers delighted in decorating their dream edifices with marvellous pavements; bronze in the palace of Alcinous, in 'Cupid and Psyche' mosaic pictures of jewels, in mediæval story jasper, onyx, paste of coral, or alternate squares of gold and silver for living chess. But actual pavements have been hardly less remarkable. Some were areas of black marble or wholly of white slabs, 'like snow,' says Procopius of a floor in a church built by Justinian. Another, in the palace at Constantinople, 'imitated the flowers of the field.' In mediæval pavements, the subjects usually are

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chapters from Nature's story, and in this they follow Roman and Eastern tradition. The four Seasons, for instance, was a favourite subject for classic pavements, whether in Carthage or in Cirencester. A mosaic from a Christian church at Tyre was brought from Syria by Renan, which represented the Seasons, Months, and Winds. In Italy, the Year is often enthroned in the centre, holding Sun and Moon, and surrounded by the Months with the several appropriate Labours of the Fields. The four Rivers of Eden are poured out of great vases, and the angles are filled up with the beasts of the earth. At Brindisi and Otranto are floors of fine design, whatever may be their meaning:—'The principal divisions are formed by gigantic trees, resting upon elephants and extending far into the nave; the branches are alive with animals of all kinds.' These motives, Woltmann says, are borrowed 'from the designs of Oriental carpets. We find, again and again, that to follow up any thought in decorative design leads to the East, apparently to Persia; and as the farther East was influenced as much by Persian art, we may see here the centre of at least true Aryan design.

When Ahasuerus made his feast at Shushan the floor was 'of porphyry, and marble, and alabaster, and stone of a blue colour' (lapis-lazuli). There is a beautiful Assyrian pavement in the British Museum, of alabaster, wrought like a tapestry; and Sadi tells us of a tomb floored with marble and turquoise. Philostratus describes a temple of the sun seen by Apollonius in India, the walls of which were of red marble, like fire with streaks of gold; on the pavement was an image of the sun, with its rays imitated in dazzling profusion of rubies and diamonds.

We might have expected to find floors with geographies; but—except the carpet of Chosroes, representing

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a garden with its paths, trees, and running water-courses, with parterres of spring flowers of the brightest hues: and a carpet belonging to one of the Fatimite caliphs, which represented the earth with its mountains, seas, rivers, highways, and cities, especially Mecca and Medinah, each marked with its proper name—none have been found described.

But far beyond all these realised or imagined designs the finest is the floor like the sea; the thought of which penetrates us like certain vibrations in music. It is the pavement in the heavenly temple of the Apocalypse:—

'And before the throne there was a sea of glass, like unto crystal.' 'Them that had gotten the victory . . . stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God' (chs. iv. and xv.) Compare the firmament, like 'the terrible crystal,' on which was placed the sapphire throne in Ezekiel, also 'the paved work' of clear sapphire in Exodus (xxiv. 10). The pseudo Enoch, in his vision of heaven, entered a spacious habitation of crystal, 'its walls, as well as its pavement, were formed with stones of crystal, and crystal likewise was the ground.'

This is the ultimate conception on which is founded the crystal floors of romance; but probably, as we shall see, it was not taken directly and consciously from the Revelation. In Lydgate's 'Warre of Troy,' the floor of the hall in Priam's palace is of jasper. In the 'Gest Hystoriale' of the Destruction of Troy, Hector, while suffering from his wounds, was laid in the proud 'Palace of Ylion':—

'Hit was pight up with pilirs all of pure stonys
 Palit full proudly; and a proud floor
 Wrought all with crystall, clere as the sonne.'

In each corner was a pillar, and on it an image of

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gold with 'gematry justly ajoynet.' The design is repeated again in the tomb of Hector 'trayturly slayn,' the same figures and floor of 'clere crystall.' 'As Dares tells in his treatise,' is the authority given for all these wonders; but Dares and Dictys say nothing half so nice in their bald and dreary narrative. The genealogy for the palace of romance probably ascends through the Alexander stories, and Apuleius in Cupid and Psyche, to the Eastern cities of gold, of which Homer's palace of Alcinous is a Greek version.

Justinian, at Constantinople, appears definitely to have set himself to rival Solomon as a builder. His throne was not only made in the fashion of Solomon's, but actually called 'Solomon's throne;' and when he had erected Sta. Sophia, the most splendid church Christendom has ever seen, he exclaimed: 'Glory be to God! who has esteemed me worthy to achieve a work so sublime; O Solomon, I have surpassed thee!' It is said that he intended at first to floor his church with gold, like the Temple; but, fearing man's cupidity, he substituted the floor of marble, resembling water.

Now, there is an Eastern legend of Solomon laying a floor like the sea in his wonderful palace in Jerusalem:—'When the Queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon, she came to prove Solomon with hard questions' (Book of Chronicles). These, according to Eastern tradition, were riddles, like those which passed between Solomon and Hiram of Tyre. But 'there was nothing hid from Solomon,' and, en revanche, he retorts by transporting the throne of Queen Balkis to his palace by the aid of the genii who ever served him, so that on her arrival she was confronted by her own throne. 'It was said unto her: enter the palace. And when she saw it she imagined it to be a

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great water, and she discovered her legs, by lifting up her robe, to pass through it. Whereupon Solomon said unto her: Verily, this is a palace evenly floored with glass' (Koran xxvii.) Or, as some understand, adds Sale, this was in 'the court before the palace, which Solomon had commanded to be built against the arrival of Balkis; the floor or pavement being of transparent glass, laid over running water in which fish were swimming. Fronting this pavement was the royal throne, on which Solomon sat to receive the Queen.'

A similar floor is given to the palace of The City of Brass, in the 'Arabian Nights,' probably the most wonderful piece of architectural imagination in literature. The Emeer Moosa and his followers came to a high-walled city, from the midst of which shines the tower of brass. They entered and pressed on to the palace, and found a saloon constructed of polished marble, adorned with jewels. 'The beholder imagined upon its floor was running water, and if any one walked upon it he would slip. The Emeer Moosa therefore ordered the Sheykh Abd-Es-Samad to throw upon it something that they might be enabled to walk upon it; and he did this, and so contrived that they passed on.'

The story, incorporated in the Koran soon after the year 622, is probably from the Talmud, which contains this version:—All the kingdoms congratulated Solomon as the worthy successor of his father David, whose fame was great among all nations, save one, the Kingdom of Sheba, the capital of which was called Kitore.

To this kingdom, Solomon sent a letter.

'From me, King Solomon, peace to thee and to thy government. Let it be known to thee, that the Almighty God has made me to reign over the whole world, the kingdoms of the north, the south, the east, and the west. Lo, they have come to me with their

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congratulations, all save thee alone. Come thou also, I pray thee, and submit to my authority, and much honour shall be done thee; but if thou refusest, behold I shall by force compel thy acknowledgment.

'To thee, Queen Sheba, is addressed this letter in peace, from me, King Solomon, the Son of David.' When Solomon heard that the Queen was coming he sent Benayahu, the son of Yehoyadah, the general of his army, to meet her. When the queen saw him she thought he was the king, and she alighted from her carriage.

Then Benayahu asked, 'Why alightest thou from thy carriage?' and she answered, 'Art thou not his majesty the king?'

'No,' replied Benayahu, 'I am but one of his officers.' Then the queen turned back and said to her ladies in attendance, 'If this is but one of the officers, and he is so noble and imposing in appearance, how great must be his superior the king.'

And Benayahu, the son of Yehoyadah, conducted Queen Sheba to the palace of the king.

Solomon prepared to receive his visitor in an apartment laid and lined with glass, and the queen at first was so deceived by the appearance that she imagined the king to be sitting in water.

And when the queen had tested Solomon's wisdom and witnessed his magnificence, she said, 'I believed not what I heard, but now I have come and my eyes have seen it all; behold, the half has not been told to me. Happy are thy servants who stand before thee continually, to listen to the wisdom of thy words. Blessed be the Lord thy God, who hath placed thee on a throne to rule righteously and in justice.'

There is a practically identical story in another of the quarry books of the world, the Sanscrit epic of the Mahabharata, which sings the long strife of rival royal

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houses. One of the Rajas celebrates a royal sacrifice. 'When the sacrifice had been fully accomplished, Duryodhana entered the place where it had been performed, and saw very many beautiful things that he had never beheld in his own Raj at Hastinapur. Amongst other wonders was a square, made of black crystal, which appeared to the eye of Duryodhana to be clear water, and as he stood on the margin he began to draw up his garments lest they should be wetted, and then throwing them off he plunged in to bathe and was struck violently on the head against the crystal. Then he was much ashamed and left that place.'

Mr Talboys Wheeler suggests that this may be borrowed from the Koran, but allows that it may have had an independent origin. There can, however, be little doubt that these transcendental palaces, which are handed on through milleniums of Indian story, find their origin in the structures of the land which is not subject to winter's wind, nor any decay—The City of Gold founded in the waters above the firmament.

In the fifteenth century Italian romance, called the Hypnerotomachia, the author seems to have collected all the architectural wonders of history and romance; but how should he come by this same story? Poliphilus, after penetrating zone after zone of gardens, which occupy an island, comes at last to a circular temple, open to the sky, and on entering it was astonished to find 'a marvel more grand and stupefying than anything he had ever seen;' the whole area of the amphitheatre was apparently paved with one sole stone of obsidian, entirely black and of invincible hardness, so polished and shining that at the first moment he feared destruction by walking into an abyss. It reflected the light of day so perfectly that he contemplated the profound and limpid sky as in a quiet sea: everything was reflected as in a polished mirror.

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According to the story in the Koran, Solomon's throne seems to stand on the waters, just as was imagined of God's throne. 'It is He who hath created the heavens and the earth in six days, but His throne was above the waters, before the creation thereof' (Koran xi.). 'For the Mohammedans supposed this throne, and the waters whereon it stands—which waters they imagine were supported by a spirit or wind—were, with some other things, created before the heavens and the earth. This fancy they borrowed from the Jews, who also say that the throne of glory then stood and was borne on the face of the waters by the breath of God's mouth' (Sale). An account of this pavement of waters above the firmament is given in Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible'—'Further, the office of the rakia (firmament or solid expansion) in the economy of the world demanded strength and substance. It was to serve as a division between the waters above and the waters below . . . . and accordingly the rakia was created to support the upper reservoir (Psalms cxlviii. 4 and civ. 3), where Jehovah is represented as "building His chambers of water," not simply in water, that being the material of which the beams and joists were made.'

In Ezekiel's vision of a perfect temple, after he has seen every court and chamber, and measured them with his reed, he is brought again to the door:—'And, behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward: for the forefront it of the house stood toward the east.' The waters came from the south of the altar, and after passing through the court and the outer gate became a mighty river flowing to the sea. It is the river of the water of life, 'and everything shall live whither the river cometh.'

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To return to Constantinople once more: an account of the emperor's bed-chamber, in the imperial palace, is given by Bayet (L’Art Byzantin.), quoting from Constantine Porphyrogenitus. A range of the palace called 'Cenourigion,' was built by Basil, the Macedonian; one of the rooms had sixteen columns, of green marble, and of onyx, sculptured with branches of the vine, and the vault was covered with golden mosaic. 'But nothing could equal the royal bed-chamber. The pavement was of mosaic, the centre was a peacock in a circle of Carian marble, surrounded by rays, and an outer circle. From this second circle issued, as it were, streams or rivers of green marble of Thessaly, which flowed, seemingly, to the four angles of the room (comme des ruisseaux ou des fleuves de marble vert de Thessalie); the four interspaces left between the marble streams had eagles wrought in mosaic, which seemed to live and to breathe. The lower part of the walls were encrusted with glass, in many pieces of varied colour, in the forms of flowers. Above a gold band, the walls were covered with mosaic, on the golden field of which were enthroned Basil and Eudoxia, and their children around them. In the centre of the ceiling glittered a cross of emerald glass on a star-lit sky.' In the same book (Bayet) is a story taken from Codinus, of flooding Sta. Sophia with water, which, although not questioned by the author, seems to be an expedient so impracticable and injurious as to be obviously a myth—just such a myth as would arise to account for a pavement representing water. 'When the dome fell in Anthemius and Isidore were dead, but the latter had left a nephew, who was charged with the works. He increased the elevation of the cupola, and at the same time gave greater solidity to the great arches. They this time left the centres longer in place, and all

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the scaffolding. They also inundated with water the lower part of the church, so that pieces of wood in falling should not cause any injury.'

In the great area of Sta. Sophia it is not possible to see the floor, but in one of the galleries a green marble pavement is still uncovered. It is formed of very large slabs of antique Cipollino (Browning's 'onion stone'), the slabs being laid in such a manner

Figure 22. Marble Pavement, Constantinople
Click to enlarge

that what were the two faces of the division made by the saw in the original 'block are opened out side by side, thus obtaining a symmetrical wave-like veining. Mr Brindley, the best English authority on marbles, says—'Cippolino produces, when sawn across the bed, sea-wave like effects, to which the Roman and Byzantine architects were very partial.'

In St Mark's at Venice where the floor is generally covered by the most varied and intricate mosaic in existence, there is, just in the most important place of

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the area, centrally in front of the choir screen, a similar 'sea' of marble. Twelve immense slabs of Cipollino, each thirteen feet long by five feet wide, are arranged in the same way as to matching one another, covering an area thirty feet by twenty-six feet with their rippled veining. The marble block from which these slabs were cut was brought from the east, and the slabs were laid down in quite evident imitation of the floor of Sta. Sophia.

If the ceiling belonged of right to the sky, the floor is yielded to the sea. When Galla Placidia escaped from shipwreck, she dedicated a pavement in St John the Evangelist at Ravenna—a picture of the shipwreck recalling the peril of the queen by its likeness to the storm-tossed waves of the sea. Mr Baring Gould describes a pavement he discovered in a Gallo-Roman palace near Pau:—'In the principal room the pavement was very elaborate; the design was, however, rudely interrupted by a monstrous cross, nearly twenty feet by thirteen feet, with its head towards the south and its foot at the head of a flight of marble steps descending into what we were unable to decide whether it was a bath or a vestibule. The ground of the cross was white, the limbs were filled with cuttle, lobsters, eels, oysters, and fish swimming as though in their natural element; but the centre, where the arms intersected, was occupied by a gigantic bust of Neptune with his trident.'

Sir Charles Newton says:—'On a mosaic found at Oudnah, in Algeria, we have a representation of the sea, remarkable for the fulness of details with which it is made out. The mosaic lines the floor and sides of a bath; and, as was commonly the case in the baths of the ancients, serves as a figurative representation of the water it contained. On the sides are hippocamps, figures riding on dolphins, and islands

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on which fishermen stand; on the floor are fish, crabs, and shrimps.'

The baths of Caracalla, in Rome, have such sea pavements treated pictorially, as well as patterns in a conventional rendering of sea waves. And the baths of Titus even had a floor of lapis lazuli—a great pool of ultramarine.

If we take any collection of Roman mosaic floors—as, for instance, those now exhibited on the staircase of the British Museum, or the drawings at South Kensington—it is most remarkable how often the

Figure 23. Roman Pavement, Cirencester
Click to enlarge

floor is designed as a sea; there are subjects such as Neptune and Amphitrite; Ulysses in his ship; or a fisherman in a boat, the rest of the area being filled with fish: or, more frequently, only fish and marine monsters 'swimming as though in their natural element;' the sea being represented by the flowing lines of the plain white mosaic, with a darker broken line here and there in various directions. One of the most beautiful of these is an English example that was discovered at Cirencester, and figured by Lysons.

We can hardly suppose that all of these were in baths. At Lydney on the Severn, a mosaic was found forming the floor of a temple to the Celtic

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[paragraph continues] 'God of the Deeps,' to whom the pavement was dedicated; inscribed offerings proved that this was a temple. Great sea serpents and fish swim over the expanse of the floor (C. W. King).

The best authenticated specimen of Greek mosaic floor, that of the pronaos of the temple of Zeus, at Olympia, of which only a small fragment exists, represents a triton and fish swimming. Within the temple, directly in front of the great statue of Zeus enthroned, by Pheidias, and right across the sanctuary, was an area of black marble twenty-two feet square, and slightly sunk below the rest of the floor. Pausanias describes it, and the foundations yet show its place. Shining with the oil thrown over the ivory figure, and reflecting it and the lights, it must have resembled the deep still sea, the sea of heaven which bore the throne of Zeus, and in which the stars floated. There is an irresistible suggestion of water in these marble floors when highly polished. Miss Beaufort, for instance, saw in a Damascus mosque, what every worshipper of the throned Zeus must have seen and understood in the Temple of Olympia—'The polished marble floor shone darkly, like a lake of black water, reflecting back the few lamps like stars.'

A representation of the sea of heaven with its stars is especially appropriate to the floor of the holy place, which bears the figure of the god, or the altar.

It was quite general in the Middle Ages to figure the signs of the zodiac on the floor of the sanctuary, thus marking it like the 'paved work' of heaven.

'Look how the floor of heaven
 Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold.'
                                  —Merchant of Venice.

[paragraph continues] Left behind in the west end of the church was the labyrinth of the lower world, but the holy place, raised seven steps, was heaven itself. In England we have a fine

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zodiac on the floor at Canterbury. The choir of St Remi, at Rheims, had a pavement of marble and enamel; on one side of which was figured the earthly paradise with the four rivers, the earth seated on ocean, and the seasons; on the other side were the four cardinal points, the zodiacal circle, and within the last the two bears of the North Pole studded with stars. Some British-Roman pavements display the sun in the middle surrounded by the planets.

In the Dome of the Rock at Jerusalem, a slab of dark stone inlaid in the floor is said to be a piece of the pavement of paradise.

Figure 24. Pavement Patterns, the Baptistery, Florence
Click to enlarge

Many of the churches of Italy have wave patterns on the floors, and in some instances we are able to identify them as set imitations of the waters. In the crypt of an early church at Piacenza the space before the altar has a mosaic pavement with undulating lines of waves in which fishes swim, and circular discs contain the zodiacal signs; these heavenly signs floating on the water appear to mark it as the oversea.

In the great basin of the Baptistry at Pisa the floor again definitely represents the water it contains.

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At Florence, the floor of the Baptistry is laid in patterns suggesting running and rippled water, with the sun and zodiacal signs. (See figures.)

With all these examples, it cannot be doubted that the wave-like patterns of the central space at Grado, or portions in St Mark's, represent the sea by a traditional pattern.


To the Egyptians the realm of Osiris was watered by a network of smiling canals. Wilkinson writes of the happy dead admitted to these Elysian fields:—'Horus introduces him to the presence of Osiris, who, in his palace, attended by Isis and Nepthys, sits on his throne in the midst of the waters, from which rises the lotus, bearing upon its expanded flower the four genii of Amenti.' In the plate given by Wilkinson of the scene from which he takes his description, Osiris is shown under a pillar-borne canopy, seated on a throne placed on the waters, the water being shown by a parallelogram covered with zigzag lines.

In some of the Egyptian temples, the lower part of the side walls is painted with growing water plants, and next the floor is the zigzag line of water. The bases of the columns are wrapped round with water leaves; the shafts themselves being bundles of water reeds.

The gods are sometimes shown supported by the oversea, Ra floating in his bark, or enthroned (like that discovered by Miss Edwards' party at Aboo Simbel) on a platform of blue spangled with stars. As the Pharaoh had the effigies of his enemies painted on the soles of his shoes so that he might tread them in the dust, as his footstool was carved on its sides with prostrate captives: so, with symbolic intention, the thrones and footstools shown at the

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[paragraph continues] Ramessium, and in the tombs of the kings, were covered with tissue of blue sprinkled with stars. The king, godlike, crushes his enemies under his footstool, and treads underfoot the azure flood in which float the stars. No mere accident this, but an ordered symbolism; it occurs many times, the stars being treated exactly as they are on the star ceilings of the temples, an acknowledged symbol of the sky and heavens reserved for sacred places.

The most beautifully worked and preserved Babylonian tablet in the British Museum represents the king before the sun-god Samas. It is carefully engraved by Lenormant (Histoire Ancienne de l’Orient), and by Perrot. The image of the god sits on a throne, under a canopy; before him is a great sun disc, with flaming rays on it, which is revolved by means of ropes as the king is led forward. The floor of this composition, on which stands the throne, the sun altar, and the worshippers, is an area of water, and on it are a row of stars—without doubt stars, for above the god are engraved the forms of the sun, moon, and stars; and the stars on the pavement repeat the last with exactitude. The text says it represents the king before Samas in his temple at Sippara, and it seems possible that the floor there really represented the oversea. It is not without some relation, we might suppose, to these thoughts that an Assyrian pavement in the British Museum is entirely patterned over with the lotus.

There is abundance of evidence besides what has been given, that the celestial sea forms the floor of the over-world; our dome being the under side of the pavement, as in Blake:—

'Lo! the vault of paved heaven.'

In the Brahmanical system, the paradise is well

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watered with broad, beautiful lakes. 'These lakes are covered with water-lilies, red, blue, and white, each blossom having a thousand petals; and on the most beautiful of all these calm lakes floats a throne, glorious as the sun, whereon Krishna the beautiful reposes' (Miss Gordon Cumming). Indeed, the whole city of Krishna is built on the waters.

To the Buddhist, the 'lotus throne' of Buddha rests on the waters—Buddha being called 'the Jewel on the lotus.' Even in the Rig Veda, Yama, the lord of death, is 'the assembler of men who departed to the mighty waters,' 'the heavenly ocean;' and Varuna dwells in a golden palace, where he 'sits throned in unapproachable light, on the waters of heaven.' In the Avesta, the 'lofty mountain,' the exterior of the domed firmament is the seat of the gods, and the source of all the waters of earth. The paradise of the Burmese has 'gorgeous palaces, with crystal pavements, golden columns, and jewelled walls.'

Doubtless to a parallel phase of the thought belong the vast sacred lakes attached to the temples of India, on which, as the homes of the gods, they seem to float. It was the same in Greece, in Syria, Babylon, and Egypt; here the priests imitated the voyage of the sun, and here swam sacred fish. 'At Sais, in the sacred precinct . . . is a lake ornamented with a stone margin, formed in a circle, and in size it appeared to me much the same as that at Delos, which is called the circular. In this lake they perform by night the representation of that person's adventures, which they call mysteries' (Herodotus).

Nebuchadnezzar, in one of his inscriptions, speaks of surrounding the temple he had built with a lake. And in India the golden temple of Amritzur seems to float on an artificial sea, crossed by a single causeway, entering on which, as Lady Dufferin remarks, the

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pilgrim puts off his 'earthly shoes.' At Marttand the temple court was filled with water, in which stepping-stones were placed, leading from the gateway.

The fountain of ablution is common to the religions of the East. Although its use is obvious, both for practical and symbolic purity, yet the water was 'holy water,' and represented the fountain of life. Professor Sayce, in his Hibbert Lectures, says 'the temples of Babylonia were provided with large basins filled with water, and used for purificatory purposes, which resembled the sea made by Solomon in his temple at Jerusalem, and were called deeps or abysses.' Pausanias also mentions seas in Greek temples.


That there is something impressive to the imagination in thus making the floor to appear like a sea, is sufficiently borne out by the following instances from modern romance and poetry; from French, German, and English authors. To take them respectively:—

Flaubert thus describes the assembly at the temple in Carthage: 'The elders sat on the ebony benches, having thrown over their heads the ends of their long robes. They remained motionless, with their hands crossed in their wide sleeves; and the mother-of-pearl pavement resembled a luminous stream, that ran under their bare feet, from the altar to the door.'

In Eber's Egyptian romance, 'Uarda,' a temporary palace is built, in which to welcome back Rameses from the war in Syria. As the author leans so on his correct archæology, the floor of the banqueting-hall may be taken from a wall painting. 'This (the palace) was of unusual height, and had a vaulted wooden ceiling, which was painted blue, and sprinkled with stars, to represent the night heavens. Thick carpets, which seemed to have transported the seashore

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on to the dry land—for their pale blue ground was strewn with a variety of shells, fishes, and water-plants—covered the floor of the banqueting-hall.'

Mr William Morris makes use of the thought in the description of a new fourteenth century church, in 'A Dream of John Ball': 'The white shafts of the arches rose out of the shining pavement in the moonlight as though out of a sea, dark, but with gleams struck over it.' In the story of 'Cupid and Psyche,' in his 'Earthly Paradise,' it seems as if the floor is taken from the account of the reception of Queen Balkis by Solomon, for the idea is not found in the story by Apuleius.

'At last she came into a chamber cool,
 Paved cunningly in the manner of a pool,
 Where red fish seemed to swim through the floating weed;
 And at the first she thought it so indeed,
 And took the sandals quickly from her feet;
 But when the glassy floor these did but meet,
 The shadow of a long-forgotten smile
 Her anxious face a moment did beguile.'

The last instance is that in Southey's 'Thalaba,' which is not so much a continuation of the tradition as a reverting to the original idea which underlies the whole series—an imitation by human hands, in an artificial paradise, of the water or transparent crystal pavement above the firmament, where stands the throne. Shedad, who, according to Arab story, lived in the early ages of the world, built to himself such a lordly pleasure-house and garden of delights:—

'Here emerald columns o’er the marble courts
 Fling their green rays, as when, amid a shower,
 The sun shines loveliest on the vernal corn;
 Here Shedad bade the sapphire floor be laid
 As though with feet divine to trample azure light,
 Like the blue pavement of the firmament.'

Next: Chapter X. Ceilings Like the Sky