Clarification of Answer by
05 Sep 2004 06:10 PDT
James Haverty Smith's actual quote about the towers is: - - "There, at
Aachen, where Charlemagne would reside as the first Holy Roman
Emperor, the basilican church was expanded to the west to include two
towers which straddled the main entrance. This towered entrance later
evolved into the westworks.
"The westworks became an exterior counterbalance to the tower over the
church sanctuary, while inside the westworks a throne was designed so
that Charlemagne could sit facing opposite the sanctuary.
Charlemagne's towered entrance served as a visible reminder, both
inside and outside of the church, of the role of the Holy Roman
Emperor opposite that of the clergy, and in particular of the papacy.
Four hundred years later, the westworks evolved into the great western
towers of Chartres." - From
Now Mr. Smith is an excellent architect and the history of
architecture is an excellent study. And while symbolism and meaning
is a part of architectural training, it is not the depth of training
in symbolism given the anthropologist. I must answer this question
from that point of view since your question approaches the "need" to
find a symbolism for the use of two towers as part of the architecture
of certain churches.
"One of the creations of Carolingian architects was the westwork, a
multi-storey entrance fašade flanked by bell towers, attached to
Christian basilicas. Westworks were prototypes of the great Romanesque
and Gothic cathedral fašades..." In this case, we find that the
innovation of towers was as primarily a bell support. An evolution in
architecture, true, but one driven by artistic sense rather than
theological basis. In fact, if we read back over Smith's quote again,
we find that the towers were considered a symbol of theological
opposition and the declaration of a "civil" authority as against that
of the church. Certainly no pro-Christian, pro-church symbolism
there. Just the opposite.
The "towers" of the Pantheon did in fact exist. And they were there
for a couple of hundred years, at least. However, the towers were not
added when the Pantheon first became a Christian church but much
"During the Renaissance, Urban VIII, also known as Barberini, employed
a man named Bernini to add two turrets in the front of the Santa Maria
(Pantheon), near the portico. Many thought they were an ugly addition,
and became popularly known as the "ass ears of Bernini". They were
removed in 1883A.D. Barberini was not done with the Pantheon yet
though, he melted down the bronze ceiling of the portico for St.
Peter's, an act of vandalism. This took part in inspiring Pasquino's
saying "what the barbarians didn't do, Barberini did." - Quote from:
Now we have covered the two main examples in your clarification
request. The towers at Aachen were an architectural innovation and
political statement to which any symbolic attachment was more
anti-Christian tradition and symbolism than not.
The towers at the Pantheon come too late in history to be part of any
"developmental" Christian tradition or symbolism.
One thing we must remember, whether the towers of the Saxons (refer
back, some Saxon churches had two) or the architectural innovations of
the Early Middle Ages, the concept of building towers, for whatever
reason, is universal. It is not something that "came-along" with
The concept of flanking the entrance to an important place with twin
towers is so deeply buried in human history, and the human psyche,
that the only surprise would have been for it "not" to have shown up
in Christian usage sooner or later.
It may have well started (probably did) far in the misty, distant,
past of prehistory. (I just love it when I wax poetic - so do my
anthropology students who just want me to shut-up and pass out the
Here we are back to the 'watch tower' premise again. The earliest of
walled permanent human settlements had access gates flanked by towers
for defensive and observation purposes. Since the city/city state was
the most important thing in most people's eyes, these gate towers were
not only defensive, they marked the entrance into an "important
As these cities grew and other "important spaces" were incorporated
within them, such as temples, etc, these spaces were also entered
through doubly towered gates. The concept of 'towered entry' to
important space had carried over from the symbolism of the city gate
Pairs of large single stones frequently mark the entry to sacred space
from the earliest of times. The great temples of Egypt were fronted
by twin pylon towers. The gate towers of many ancient cities became
works of art and symbols of civic pride.
Plus, there is the fact that we humans have an artistic bent. "Two"
may have started out as a practical form of defense for a gate type or
restricted space, but "two" was also recognized as something of visual
balance - or to give balance to something else. For example, back to
Smith's quote: "The westworks became an exterior counterbalance to
the tower over the church sanctuary" Artistic merit or architectural
balance may have played as much of a role as any theological
From every continent except Australia and Antarctica, we have ancient
examples of twin towered entryways.
The concept was already there and deeply established before
Christianity came along. As mentioned earlier, the surprise would
have been if some part of Christianity had "not" adopted the design.
Now we need to get into the reasons these towers were built. As you
pointed out, there were towers before the time of the Saxon towers.
Of course there were. Some were architectural innovations, as at
Aachan, some were bell towers only, but whatever they were, they were
"local" innovations and not a regular part of church structures of the
time or in the region.
The first place where towers "were a regular part" of church
architecture still remains Saxon England. They were common to both
the time and the region. Some churches had one - some two.
When getting to the symbolism, we have a study in cultural
anthropology to assemble here.
Consider the following: - - The main symbols of Christianity permeate
the historic church, both East and West. Church domes, in both the
Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions have names and the
number of them has meaning. This Christian tradition and symbol is
universal in the most ancient churches. If twin church towers had as
strong a symbolic meaning, the twin tower tradition would have been
much more widespread. - It was not. - It was a tradition only of the
northern and central parts of Western Europe. In Southern Europe
there were church towers as well. But the tradition there remained
either a separate building as at Piza, or the construction of a single
tower which was often the exterior artistic focus. The vast swath of
Eastern Christian lands from Finland to Russia and the Mideast, never
developed a twin tower philosophy at all. there are a few, but they
exist in cultural and architectural isolation.
"Two" is an important Christian symbol. There is the "dual" nature of
Christ as God and man. If an Orthodox Church has two domes, that is
what they stand for. And if a Roman Catholic church has two domes,
that is what they stand for. The symbolism is universal. No such
universal symbolism for towers exists. If it did, the tradition would
be more widespread.
If the twin towers does have a symbolism, it must be localized, vary
by region, and be fairly recent in origin.
The same comparison can be made to all the major symbols of
Christianity. Those which came about in the earliest church became
universal. So we cannot date any tower symbolism from that time. The
evidence would be there.
Major traditions which came about later, about the time of the Great
Schism, became more localized divided between East and West, but they
still divided the world between them. A strong twin tower symbolism
evolving then would have dominated one or the other. It didn't. So
we cannot date any major tower symbolism from that time. The evidence
would be there.
Even within the western tradition, with the exception of those
isolated cases where towers were built, we are back to the Saxons.
Other than in Saxon England, towers were of little importance in the
rest of the Christian world. If they had a significent meaning, their
use would have been more widespread. So there was no major tower
symbolism involved. The evidence would be there.
So the answer has to stand as is. Church towers were utilitarian in
origin, whether as watch towers in Saxon England, architectural
innovations as at Aachan, which also make a political statement, or as
simple artistic preference. There is no ancient symbolism attached to
Church towers regardless of their number.
Any symbolisms you may find regarding the subject would be rather
recent in origin and an example of "symbol emerging from utility"
rather than symbolism actually driving the original design.
If any further clarification, please ask.