Sunday, January 12, 2014

Till We Have Built Jerusalem

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

It has been the dream of devout Catholics, convinced by the knowledge that the western world is seeing a repeat of Rome before the fall. With a culture becoming increasingly hostile, not only to Catholicism, but to Christianity in general, even the very idea of faith in God over that of Mammon, they are torn between the call to be a witness to the world, and to shut themselves in isolated places, away from the maddening crowd.

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Milton was an epic poem written by William Blake (1757-1827) between 1804 and 1810. Its hero, John Milton, offered his reflections upon his return from Heaven. A line from one of its extracts is the title of a book about a proposal for changing the culture through architecture and the new urbanism. Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architecture, Urbanism, and the Sacred, written by architect Philip Bess, makes the case for traditional architecture and urbanism and their role in the uplifting of culture, through the sustaining of traditional towns and city neighborhoods, as opposed to the suburban sprawl of the last half century or more, which has only served to alienate humanity, thus stifling the culture and enabling consumerist excess.

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

In the coming year, this venue will present ideas proposed by architects and planners along the lines of the above, as well as instances where living in the world, if not of it, through relationships built in neighborhoods, has borne fruit that is waiting to be discovered and proliferated.

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

It was Sir William Churchill who once said that "we shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us."

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