Theophany in Luminosity: The Theology of Light in Gothic and Shaker Architecture
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Light is a dominant metaphor in Scripture for conveying the relationship between humanity and the divine, from God’s command, “Let there be light” (Gen 1:3), to the Psalmist’s declaration of Scripture as “a lamp unto my feet” (Ps 119:105), to John’s description of Christ as the light that “shines in the darkness,” (Jn 1:5), to the description of the Celestial City as radiant with the glory of the Lord (Rev 21). The Christian exegetical tradition develops this metaphor further. Early French Gothic architecture and Shaker architecture, though disparate in time periods, locations, and traditions, both capture the beauty, purity, and simplicity of light. I argue that in medieval sanctuaries and in Shaker communities, the element of light is used to mystically manifest a heavenly vision on earth, visually incorporating aspects of Gothic and Shaker theology into their respective holy spaces, and guiding the worshippers to contemplate the Uncreated Light.