Saturday, 8 September 2012


What is it about doorways that fascinates people? It isn't too hard to work it out. Everything that exists is in some degree a symbol, a message, a word. It speaks of something else. Poetry brings out and capitalizes upon that eloquence of things, that magical web of analogy. Jacques Maritain's book Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry is all about that. A doorway is a particularly potent symbol, because it represents the transition between two places, or two states of being. (I find it surprising there is not more about doors in Rene Guenon's Symbols of Sacred Science.)

A closed door confronts us with mystery, a locked door with a secret. A door is designed for a human being to pass through, so the change of state or the mystery is something pertaining to the person as a whole. Doorways humanize a building by showing the point of entry, accommodating the building to the human form and to human use. Traditionally they are decorated and framed and embellished in ways that emphasize their symbolic function – steps leading up to the threshold, an arch or frieze above, pillars or statues on either side, these are not merely functional, or rather they refer to the symbolic and spiritual function of the door, which is to lead us towards our destiny. Death is a doorway; so is the birth canal. We may guess what lies on the other side, but we won't know for sure until we pass through.

Illustrations show the old door to the School of Metaphysics at the Bodleian Library, and the Romanesque entrance to St Mary's Church in Iffley, near Oxford. For more doors see here.