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    Key Concepts

    As for the design of a building for sacred purposes, its many features will be determined by the requirements of specific rituals and cult usage. Meeting individual or community needs determines the most defining elements of design and plan. If a space is needed for a large gathering, it might be accomplished either out-of-doors or within a building. If an outdoor arrangement serves the purposes, it may or may not require a building, as well. For instance, as we noted with Greek temples, the cult rituals were performed in the open area outside the structure that housed the deity. Similarly, Buddhist stupas were set into a complex where devotees could approach the stupa itself, as well as visit any of the subsidiary shrines or other buildings around it. Some of them might house cult statues for deities or include libraries for scriptures, treasuries, dining halls, or other features of use or interest. Often the grounds of a sacred complex will emphasize natural features of the settings used for contemplation, such as gardens or wooded pathways, fountains, pools, and lakes. These might include careful and meaningful arrangements of statues, iconic im- agery, or rocks, trees, and plants. Monastery complexes often provide for all the activities needed to sustain the community, providing for their sacred and social activities in community and indi- vidually, while also making accommodation for visitors.

    Art and architecture, from the earliest times, have been used to express human beliefs about life and death, as well as to provide for worship, burial, and memorial needs. Basic differences in worship centers are related to ritual purposes and the forms provide for rites that are performed by individuals or congregations. The settings and décor will express the distinctive doctrine and beliefs of the sect that worships there. Burial sites and centers reflect both the customs for treatment of human remains and the beliefs about what will happen to the individuals after death.

    Objects created for worship centers and for individual contemplation and devotion are also designed to refer to specific beliefs and to inspire believers in religious practices. Both the religious architecture and the artworks also serve to emphasize and glorify the central beings and concepts of the belief system, often with elaborate or lavish artistic expression.

    Test Yourself

    1. Discuss some of the implications we can draw from the use of grave goods by citing three specific examples and their meanings.
    2. Name several ways in which customs and practice for burial and commemoration affect the creation of art and architecture.
    3. Describe the ritual use of tribal masks in different cultures.
    4. Describe the specific features of artworks in two different cultures that show their belief that gods reside in the heavens.
    5. Describe the uses and meanings of effigy mounds.
    6. Discuss specific ways in which religious complexes address astronomical features at two or three different sites.
    7. Discuss at least three art or architectural works that are specifically related to ritual use and describe the ways that they work in this regard.
    8. Describe the ways and the reasons that some religious groups use or reject artwork that includes figural imagery for sacred context and its results for the artwork they use.
    9. Consider the use of precious and luxurious materials for ritual art objects and cite examples, discussing their specific meanings.


    Altar: a sacrificial or offertory table.

    Animist: the belief that spirits are associated with objects in the natural world.

    Burial Mounds: early cultural collections of skeletal remains and grave goods.

    Cromlech: a circular arrangement of megaliths.

    Dolmen: a large upright stone or marker.

    Effigy Mounds: earth mounds formed in the shape of animals or symbols.

    Egungun: a general term for Yoruba masquerade rituals.

    Elevated Platform: a raised area intended to confer status.

    Gateway: a structure intended to mark a passage from one state, world, or phase to another.

    Grave Goods: artifacts interred with deceased members of family or tribes.

    Imam: Islamic prayer leader, the one charged with the duty to issue the call to prayer at appointed times.

    Mandala: a ritual diagram with cosmic significance. Used by many different religions, and either circular or containing circular components, often designed for contemplation of specific teachings or tenets related to the particular belief system. varieties are used in diverse sects of Hinduism, Buddhism, Native American tribal worship, and others.

    Mausolea: plural of mausoleum. An above-ground structure designed for entombment of the deceased.

    Megalith: literally, “large stone.”

    Minaret: a tower, usually tall and slender, associated with a mosque and signifying Islamic presence in a location.

    Pagoda: a Buddhist structure in China, Japan, elsewhere that signifies the practice of Buddhism in that place. The form evolved from the burial mound conception of the Stupa that appeared in India as the primary structural symbol of the belief system, as it spread to China and took on the native architectural form of the watchtower.

    Portal: an exceptionally grand entrance, most often referring to cathedral or other church architecture.

    Ritual Mask: masks designed to be used in religious or secular ceremonial events.

    Sacred Interior: interior spaces devoted to ritual or ceremony invoking a highest good.

    Sacred: held as a highest good.
    Sarcophagi: plural of sarcophagus – a burial container, usually of stone or other masonry

    material, often embellished with sculptural decoration.

    Stonehenge: a famous arrangement of vertical stones from prehistoric Britain.

    Stupa: a Buddhist monument signifying the presence of relics of Sakyamuni Buddha or sacred objects associated with the beliefs. Formed of an earthen mound, faced with brick, stone, or stucco. Worshippers circumambulate outside the stupa, rather than enter it.

    Temple Mound: earthen mounds formed to elevate a ceremony, ritual, or elite.

    Terra Cotta: porous low fired ceramic.

    Terracotta Army: famous arrangement of 6,000 clay soldiers meant to guard the grave of the first emperor of China.

    Toranas: stone structures placed at the Buddhist Stupa at Sanchi and at other stupa sites which form gateways to the circular path around the stupa.

    This page titled 10.6: BEFORE YOU MOVE ON is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Pamela Sachant, Peggy Blood, Jeffery LeMieux, & Rita Tekippe (GALILEO Open Learning Materials) .

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