Popular Science Monthly/Volume 48/January 1896/Professional Institutions IX

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BUILDING of the kind dignified by the name architecture, can not exist during early stages of social development. Before the production of such building there must be an advance in mechanical arts greater than savages of low type have made—greater than we find among the slightly civilized.

It is true that constructions of unhewn stones arranged upon the surface into some order, as well as rude underground stone chambers, have been left by prehistoric peoples, and that incipient architecture is exhibited in them. If we extend the conception to take in these, however, we may remark as significant, that the art was first used either for preservation of the dead or as ancillary to ceremonies in honor of the apotheosized dead. In either case the implication is that architecture in these simple beginnings fulfilled the ideas of the primitive medicine-men or priests. Some director there must have been; and we can scarcely help concluding that he was at once the specially skillful man and the man who was supposed to be in communication with the departed spirits to be honored.

But now, saying nothing more of this vague evidence, let us pass to evidence furnished by those semi-civilized and civilized peoples who have left remains and records.

We are at once met by the broad fact, parallel to the fact implied above, that the earliest architecture bequeathed by ancient nations was an outcome of ancestor-worship. Its first phases were exhibited in either tombs or temples, which, as we have long ago seen, are the less developed and more developed forms of the same thing. Hence, as being both appliances for worship, now simple and now elaborate, both came under the control of the priesthood; and the inference to be drawn is that the first architects were priests.

An illustration which may be put first is yielded by Ancient India. Says Manning:—"Architecture was treated as a sacred science by learned Hindus." Again we read in Hunter—

"Indian architecture, although also ranked as an upa-veda or supplementary part of inspired learning, derived its development from Buddhist rather than from Bráhmanical impulses."

In Tennent's Ceylon there are passages variously exhibiting the relations between architecture and religion and its ministers. By many peoples the cave was made the primitive tomb-temple; and in the East it became in some cases largely developed. A stage of the development in Ceylon is described as follows:—

"In the Rajavali Devenipiatissa is said to have 'caused caverns to be cut in the solid rock at the sacred place of Mihintala'; and these are the earliest residences for the higher orders of the priesthood in Ceylon, of which a record has been preserved."

"The temples of Buddha were at first as unpretending as the residences of the priesthood. No mention is made of them during the infancy of Buddhism in Ceylon, and at which period caves and natural grottoes were the only places of devotion."

Referring to later stages, during which there arose "stupendous ecclesiastical structures" Tennent adds:—

"The historical annals of the island record with pious gratitude the series of dagobas, wiharas, and temples erected by "Devenipiatissa" and his successors."

A dagoba "is a monument raised to preserve one of the relics of Gotama. . . and it is candidly admitted in the Mahawanso that the intention in erecting them was to provide 'objects to which offerings could be made.'"

Here though we do not get evidence that the architects were the priests, yet other passages show that Buddhist temples were the works of converted kings acting under direction of the priests. Moreover, the original development of architecture for religious purposes, and the consequent sacredness of it, is curiously implied by the fact that the priesthood "forbade the people to construct their dwellings of any other material than sun-baked earth."

This last extract recalls the general contrast which existed in ancient historic kingdoms between the dwellings of the people and the buildings devoted to gods and kings. The vast mounds from which Layard exhumed the remains of Babylonian and Assyrian temples are composed of the débris of sun-dried bricks, mingled, doubtless, with some decomposed wood otherwise used for constructing ordinary houses. Layers upon layers of this debris were accumulated until the temples were buried, as some temples are even now being buried in Egypt. Whether it was because of the costliness of stone, or because of the interdict on use of stone for other than sacred purposes, or whether these causes co-operated, the general implication is the same—architecture began in subservience to religion (comprehending under this name ancestor-worship, simple and developed); and was, by implication, under the control of the priesthood. Such further evidence as Ancient Babylonia yields, though indirect, is tolerably strong. Saying of the temple and palace "solemn rites inaugurated its construction and recommended its welfare to the gods," and implying that its plan was governed by established tradition (of which the priests were by implication the depositaries) Perrot and Chipiez write:— "Whether they belonged to the sacerdotal cast, we do not know. We are inclined to the latter supposition in some degree by the profoundly religious character of the ceremonies that accompanied the inception of a building, and by the accounts left by the ancients of those priests whom they called the Chaldæans."

And since "when it [architecture] is carried so far as it was in Chaldæa it demands a certain amount of science," the priests who alone possessed this science must have been the architects.

Sufficient proofs of the alleged relation among the Egyptians are supplied by ancient records, Rawlinson says:—

"Although their early architecture is almost entirely of a sepulchral character, yet we have a certain amount of evidence that, even from the first, the Temple had a place in the regards of the Egyptians, though a place very much inferior to that occupied by the Tomb." Summing up the general evidence Duncker writes:—

"In the achievement won by Egyptian art the priests took a leading part. The buildings of the temples and the tombs of the kings could only be erected after their designs; for in these essentially sacred things, sacred measures and numbers, were concerned."

Some special illustrative facts may be added. Of Mentuhotep it is recorded that—

"As chief architect of the king he promoted the worship of the gods, and instructed the inhabitants of the country according to the best of his knowledge, 'as God orders to be done.'"

Here are passages relating to the 19th and 21st dynasties respectively. Bekenkhonsu, on his statue is made to say:—

"'I was a great architect in the town of Amon.' 'I was a holy father of Amon for twelve years.' 'The skilled in art, and the first prophet of Amon.'"

"Hir hor, first of a succession of priest-kings, calls himself, when represented by the side of the king:—'Chief architect of the king, chief general of the army.'"

And that the priest, if he did not always design, always directed, may be safely inferred; for as Rawlinson says, "it is. . . tolerably certain that there existed in ancient Egypt a religious censorship of Art."

Of evidence furnished by Greek literature, the first comes to us from the Iliad. The priest Chryse, crying for vengeance, and invoking Apollo's aid, says:

"O Smintheus! If ever I built a temple gracious in thine eyes, or if ever I burnt to thee fat flesh of thighs of bulls or goats, fulfill thou this my desire; let the Danaans pay by thine arrows for my tears."

By which we see that the priestly function of sacrificer is joined with the function of architect, also, by implication, priestly. Later indications are suggestive if not conclusive. Here is a sentence from Curtius:

"But the immediate connection between the system of sacred architecture and the Apolline religion is clear from Apollo being himself designated as the divine architect in the legends concerning the foundation of his sanctuaries."

And further on he writes—

Thus "schools of poets came to form themselves, which were no less intimately connected with the sanctuary than were the art of sacred architecture and hieratic sculpture."

But, as we have before seen, the lack of a priestly organization in Greece obscured the development of the professions in general, and that of architects among others.

That much of the Roman cult was not indigenous, and that importation of knowledge and skill from abroad confused the development of the professions, we have seen in other cases. The influence of the Etruscans was marked, and it appears that of the religious appliances derived from them, architecture was one. Duruy writes:—

"Etruria also furnished the architects who built the Roma quadrata of the palatine, and constructed the first temples; she provided even the flute-players necessary for the performance of certain rites." But the identity eventually established between the chief priest and the chief architect, in the person of the Pontifex maximus, while it illustrates the alleged connection, also reminds us of one of the original causes for the priestly origin of the professions—the possession of learning and ability by priests. Among primitive peoples, special skill is associated with the idea of supernatural power. Even the blacksmith is, in some African tribes, regarded as a magician. Naturally, therefore, the Roman who either first devised the arch, or who first conspicuously displayed skill in constructing an arch, was supposed to be inspired by the gods. For though the arch is now so familiar that it does not excite wonder, it must, when first used, have appeared an incomprehensible achievement. Hence a not unlikely cause, or at any rate an ancillary cause, for the union of priest and bridge-builder.

After the fall of the Roman Empire the social disorganization which arrested mental activities and their products, arrested architecture among them. Its re-commencement, when it took place, was seen in the raising of ecclesiastical edifices of one or other kind under the superintendence of the priestly class. Referring to the state of things after the time of Charlemagne, Lacroix writes:—

"It was there that were formed the able architects and ecclesiastical engineers who erected so many magnificent edifices throughout Europe, and most of whom, dedicating their lives to a work of faith and pious devotion, have, through humility, condemned their names to oblivion." Speaking of France, and saying that up to the tenth century the names of but few architects are recorded, the same author writes:—
"Among them, however, are Tutilon, a monk of Saint Gall. . . Hugues, Abbot of Montier-en-Der; Austee, Abbot of St. Arnulph. . . . Morard, who, with the co-operation of King Robert, rebuilt, toward the end of the tenth century, the old church of St. Germain-des-Prés. at Paris; lastly, Guillaume, Abbot of St. Benignus, at Dijon, who. . . became chief of a school of art,"

And he further says:

"In the diocese of Metz Gontran and Adélard, celebrated Abbots of St. Trudon, covei'ed Hasbaye with new buildings. 'Adelard' says a chronicler 'superintended the construction of fourteen churches.'"

This association of functions continued long after. According to Viollet-le-Duc, the religious houses, and especially the abbey of Cluny, during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, furnished most of the architects of Western Europe, who executed not only religious but also civil and perhaps military buildings.

The differentiation of the architect from the priest is implied in the following further quotation from Lacroix:—

"It was, moreover, at this period [of transition from Norman to Gothic] that architecture, like all the other arts, left the monasteries to pass into the hands of lay architects organized into confraternities."

Similar is the statement of Viollet-le-Duc, who, observing that in the thirteenth century the architect appears as an individual, and as a layman, says that about the beginning of it "we see a bishop of Amiens. . . charging a lay architect, Robert le Luzarches, with the building of a great cathedral." A curious evidence of the transition may be added.

"Raphael, in one of his letters, states that the Pope (Leo X) had appointedan aged friar to assist him in conducting the building of St. Peter's; and intimates that he expected to learn some 'secrets' in architecture from his experienced colleague."

Passing to our own country we find Kemble, in The Saxons in England, remarking of the monks that

. . ."painting, sculpture, and architecture were made familiar through their efforts, and the best examples of these civilizing arts were furnished by their churches and monasteries."

In harmony with this statement is that of Eccleston.

"To Wilfrid of York and Benedict Biscop, Abbot of Wearmouth in the seventh century, the introduction of an improved style of architecture is due; and under their direction several churches and monasteries were built with unusual splendor."

And afterward, speaking of the buildings of the Normans and of their designers, he says of the latter—

"Among the foremost appeared the bishops and other ecclesiastics, whose architectural skill was generally not less effective than their well-bestowed riches."

How the transition from the clerical to the lay architect took place is not shown; but it is probable that, eventually, the clerical architect limited himself to the general character of the edifice, leaving the constructive part to the master-builder, from whom has descended the professional architect.


Chiefly for form's sake reference must be made to the gathering together and consolidation which, in our times, has been set up in the architect's profession. There is little to remark further than that the members of it, having been but few during earlier periods, when the amount of architectural building was relatively small, segregation and association of them could scarcely occur. Recently, however, there has been formed an Institute of Architects, and the body of men devoted to the art is tending more and more to make itself definite by imposing tests of qualification.

At the same time cultivation of the art and maintenance of the interests of those pursuing it are achieved by sundry special periodicals.