Ralph Waldo Emerson

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The Gothic Cathedral Symbol Analysis

The Gothic Cathedral Symbol Icon

The Gothic cathedral symbolizes the individual’s paradoxical tendency to view themselves as both a part of history and separate from it. Emerson believes that when an individual sees a sacred, elaborate structure like a church, they conceive of it as both “done by us, and not done by us.” It is a symbolic culmination of the complex technological, theological, and institutional developments that progressed throughout history to facilitate its construction. The Gothic cathedral also represents humanity’s connection to nature, as man designed its archway to resemble a canopy of trees in a pine grove and its stained-glass window to reflect the vivid colors of a winter sunset. Emerson observes that the church appears to be “blossoming in stone subdued by the insatiable demand of harmony in man,” representing the innate unity between nature’s unbridled beauty and man’s intrinsic desire for order and harmony.

The Gothic Cathedral Quotes in History

The History quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Gothic Cathedral. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Unity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Thrift Editions edition of History published in 1993.
History Quotes

When the voice of a prophet out of the deeps of antiquity merely echoes to him a sentiment of his infancy, a prayer of his youth, he then pierces to the truth through all the confusion of tradition and the caricature of institutions.

Related Characters: Ralph Waldo Emerson (speaker), The Individual
Related Symbols: The Gothic Cathedral
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:
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