Post #2: In the three cultures we have so far studied – Roman, Mediæval and Muslim, how did /does the garden play a role in their respective religions?

In all three cultures, gardens had some religious importance. The level of significance placed on gardens as a spiritual place differs greatly between them.

The Roman society was well organized and had great appreciation for artistic form. The importance placed on artistic ability and formal influence gave way to symmetrical, manicured and aesthetically pleasing garden spaces. The lack of separation between church and state and prominence of religion in the culture meant that one of the main functions of gardens was a place of religious expression and mutual worship. Religion and art were intertwined. Gardens were a place of religious expression and activity, but by no means were they the most sacred place. The Romans viewed religion as a give and take relationship where the pious person expected something in return for worshipping the God. The church itself was obviously on a higher level, but there were a number of features indicating that gardens were a holy place to show devotion in Roman culture including shrines or aediculas, herms and statuary representation of Gods and Goddesses who were related to gardens. Venus, for example was originally a goddess of Gardens and Vineyards.

The Outer Peristyle at the Getty Villa. © 2005 Richard Ross with the courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Trust

The fall of Rome then ensued and in the “Dark Ages”, religion took over as the highest power in medieval culture. The church had a lot of money and thus gardens took a lot of different religious meanings based on ones relationship with the church. Society had a distinct hierarchy and the Kings and Nobles were focused on the pleasurable, relaxing and entertaining aspect of gardens. They were ornamental, produced fruits, grapes for wine, there were parks for hunting and herbers where courtly love would arise. Mazes were the main feature rooted in religion for those at the top of the pyramid. They were symbolic of that if you make good life choices you will end up with redemption. The Medieval Monastery had three types of gardens. The cloisters were purely religious while self-sufficient vegetable gardens were utilitarian. Cloisters represented the Garden in Eden and became simultaneous with Church imagery. Symbolism was pervasive: the four rivers coming from the center were a religious allegory and evergreen trees embodied eternal life. The enclosed Mary gardens were similar in that Mary symbolically became the garden. The white lilies represented purity, yellows were her glowing soul and red roses show her unconditional love and gratitude. The plebians gardens had a primarily functional purpose of growing vegetables and herbs because they could not afford to make ornamental gardens with religious significance.

The Cuxa Cloister and Gardens at the Cloisters Museum, New York

After the Ottomans rampantly conquered territory and spread Islam, they established the purpose of gardens as a place that reflects Paradise, what is promised in afterlife. The Qu’ran, or religious text for Muslims even described how the garden should be formed. All Islamic gardens have a religious mission, and art and religion were almost synonymous and were essentially integrated into life. The Chahar Bagh was this layout of an earthly paradise with the quadripartite forms also seen in cloisters. They represented water, wine, milk and honey. The relationship between Christianity and Islam can be seen in gardens – both emphasized water, symmetry and enclosed spaces.

Post #2: In the three cultures we have so far studied – Roman, Mediæval and Muslim, how did /does the garden play a role in their respective religions?

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