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Sophia   Templars   Cathedrals

Excavating Sophianic Images on Early French Gothic Cathedrals that were likely inspired by the Knights Templars in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

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Sophia and the Early French Gothic Cathedrals Despite tremendous efforts at suppression, the archetype of the sacred feminine has been kept alive through two millennia of Christian patriarchy. Prominent figures like Mother Mary, who remains greatly adored, especially within the Catholic Church, and Mary Magdalene, who has enjoyed a recent surge in popularity have been key to this survival. The figure of Sophia as the grand archetypal Soul of the World, however, is little known beyond her relatively brief appearance in the Gnostic traditions of the first few centuries CE. Despite her obscurity, I believe there have been attempts to try to bring renewed attention to her, with push-back against the long-standing campaign to erase her altogether from the world stage. One extraordinary example of this is in images found in the earliest of the 12th- and 13th-century French gothic cathedrals. Following is a very brief overview of my findings. Chartres Cathedral, left west portal When reviewing photos I took during a trip to France in 2009, I began to notice an uncanny resemblance between the left west portal archway (tympanum) at the main entrance to Chartres Cathedral and the description of Christ’s ascension found in the Pistis Sophia described previously in Chapter 12 (on p. 74-75). Though interpretations by scholars have been inconclusive, each of the elements in this image corresponds to Christ’s description of his ascension found in the Pistis Sophia, a thesis I have outlined in my article Chartres and the Pistis Sophia (Morse, 2010). Here, Christ is seen rising up in what could be a beam of Light. “It came to pass then, when that light-power had come down over Jesus, that it gradually surrounded him entirely. Then Jesus ascended or soared into the height, shining most exceedingly in an immeasurable light” (PS:58). Angels below him appear to be singing and in a state of chaotic flight. This unique image is described quite specifically in the Pistis Sophia. “And all (the archons’) bonds were unloosed and their regions and their orders; and every one left his order, and they fell down all together, adored before me, or before my vesture, and all sang praises to the interiors, being in great fear and great agitation” (PS:12). Ten figures, not easily explained as the twelve disciples, are shown holding scrolls and looking up toward one direction and then another. This may correspond to how, during his remarkable ascension described in the Pistis Sophia, Christ disrupted the “horoscope-casters” accuracy as messengers of divination from within the archon-influenced lower heavens. “But now I have made them spend six months turned to the left and six months turned to the right” (PS:21). After stumbling on the Gnostic correlation to this strange ascension scene, I subsequently became aware of other images found in the early French gothic cathedrals that also seemed to have striking parallels to themes found in the Pistis Sophia. Coronation of the Virgin, Notre Dame de Paris I found that numerous images of the Coronation of the Virgin, arguably the earliest of what was to become a prominent theme in 13th–15th-century Italian Christian art, looked much like Christ’s rescue of Sophia as described in the Pistis Sophia which I presented in Chapter 11 (on p. 69). “It came to pass then, when Pistis Sophia had finished saying these words in the chaos, that I made the light-power, which I had sent to save her, become a light-wreath on her head so that from now on the emanations of the Self-willed [demiurge] could not have dominion over her” (PS:59). This coronation tableau has no textual correlation in the four Gospels. It is also odd that this young Mary hardly looks like she could be Jesus’s mother. Indeed, who is “Our Lady” referring to? In addition, the images of Ecclesia and especially Synagoga, displayed so prominently at the entrance to Notre Dame and other early French gothic cathedrals, though interpreted to mean the failure of Judaism and triumph of Christianity, have strong parallels to the captured and rescued Sophia in the Gnostic tradition. Synagoga, Notre Dame de Paris Here, Synagoga is seen with a hissing snake wrapped around her head, blinding her. This has a strange resemblance to descriptions of Sophia’s “fall,” where her Light was stolen from her and she became a captive of the beastly archons as Jesus described in the Pistis Sophia. “And the lion-faced power and the serpent-form and the basilisk-form and the dragon-form and all the other very numerous emanations of Self-willed surrounded Pistis Sophia all together, desiring to take from her anew her powers in her, and they oppressed Pistis Sophia exceedingly and threatened her” (PS:66). The corresponding image of Ecclesia featured on the Right side looking out from the cathedral, may be depicting the rescued Sophia. Sophia and the Knights Templar How is it possible that these radical and even heretical images, displayed so prominently on these great temples of Roman Catholicism, could have been so cryptically included? To help point towards further research, I have proposed a bare-bones theory that, of course, needs far more analysis to be seriously considered. The original nine Templars who resided and possibly conducted excavations at the Temple Mount in the early 12th century may have brought back to France a recovered copy of the Pistis Sophia or a text similar to it.19 Designers from the mason guilds affiliated with St. Bernard of Clairvaux may have then worked these images onto the walls of Notre Dame, Chartres, and others before the original inspiration for these themes was lost in later cathedrals. When visiting the Cologne cathedral, for example, none of these subtle yet distinct Sophian images were on display. Bernard of Clairvaux personally may not have been aware of or endorsed these cryptic inclusions, however, his religious devotion had much in common with these gnostic undercurrents. He had a strong adoration towards Mother Mary and to the themes found in the Song of Songs. He was also a key sponsor and patron of the Knights Templars and was instrumental in organizing the construction of the original gothic cathedrals in and around Paris.20 I am introducing this far too brief summary of Sophianic themes on these cathedrals as background to presenting an image found at the entrance to Notre Dame de Paris that I am particularly fond of. A pillar stands in the center of the middle doorway of the main entrance to Notre Dame. Higher up on the pillar is Jesus standing above what appears to be a gate of two snake heads. Lower down the pillar, at chest level, to greet the pilgrim at this Temple to Our Lady, is the following image. Central Pillar, West Royal Entrance, Notre Dame de Paris Holy Sophia Though I have been contemplating this image for years, only now as I write this am I finding more clarity as to who she might represent. She has been called Mother Alchemy (Franz, 2000), sitting on her throne of wisdom, with the nine rungs of what is believed to be a Hermetic process, surrounded by a number of symbolic panels that relate to the alchemical arts (Fulcanelli, 1984). From the very center of the Great Porch of Notre Dame, she seems to be saying something, or maybe she is trying to tell a story as if to lure us into some inner teachings. Could this be a metaphorical image of Sophia, or at least an emblematic symbol of the Sophianic mysteries?21 Here, she appears in her position in the (Sethian) 9th heaven (AJ), having been rescued by Christ, though she is still below the watery boundary of the Pleroma, the heavenly realm. The nine-rung ladder, instead of referring to the nine alchemical steps of labor, may suggest an invitation for us to climb through the gates of archonic control systems to, like her, be free from their influence. This ladder might also be an expression of her desire to fulfill her original intention: to come to this world to seed this region with incarnated beings of Light to inhabit. This is both a descent and an ascent. She is referring to the inner teachings, the closed book hidden somewhat behind the open book of more public teachings. Or, at least I used to think that the front book represented the exoteric teachings such as the Bible that are available to all. However, as I ponder it now, the front book looks like its lock strap on the left has been thrown open. What are these texts and what might they reveal? Our Lady Wisdom is holding a pineal image on top of a staff (similar to the small staff Christ is holding in the Coronation image shown above), perhaps points to our latent (spark) potential that runs up the spine and flowers in the pineal gland. Her staff covers her ring finger, possibly indicating that this process involves a sacred marriage, heiros gamos, the fulfillment of the mysteries of the Bridal Chamber. She is waiting for her children whom she had “sent forth” that they, we, might one day return. When the regathering of the sparks is complete, she can then step back into the Pleroma, where she can once again be reunited with her sacred consort, the Christ. The task before us is to step onto that ladder of liberation, to find that pearl of divine essence that is somewhere, somehow, within us. This droplet of Light might ultimately be something profound that brings radically expanded resources of human potential. But it starts simply with something that is creatively moving through each of us. This can be any movement that is as small as taking a deeper breath in this moment or just being in a state of not doing. Maybe there is a song in you that wants to be sung, a dance, a dream, an expression of affection, a poem, a tear. Maybe there is a powerful new insight or a letting go of something old that no longer serves. Maybe it is an opening of the heart after years of being guarded. This is the process of the Creativa that counters the drag of the Negativa, the crux of the initiatory journey. And yet, simply expressing one’s soul is not necessarily the answer. The divine inner spark is more like an unfathomable potential that needs divine energy to be fully activated. As an important spiritual maxim states, we need to reach out to be met. We have to ask in order to receive help. Either through prayer, ritual, or some form of an imaginal process, a bridge can be created where we can connect with Divine Wisdom or, as the Deep Christ called it, the Great Power, that lies largely outside our conscious awareness. To not do this, to remain inactive and mundane, comes with great risk, as St. Thomas’s Bring Forth saying warns. Reach out for help and also find that perfect tone, precise image, or dry tinder upon which that inner spark can catch fire. These mysteries ring from a distant past and point to what is ours to reclaim.

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