Thursday, February 14, 2008

Elements of a Cathedral: Ambulatory

The ambulatory (Med. Lat. ambulatorium, a place for walking, from ambulare, to walk) is the covered passage around a cloister; a term applied sometimes to the procession way around the east end of a cathedral or large church and behind the high altar.
Aisles that line the nave extend through the transept and continue in a half-circle that runs behind the apse. Along the ambulatory, there are small chapels. This modification by Romanesque architects allowed visitors to move freely around the altar without disturbing the monks' devotions.

Ambulatory also refers to:

1. of, pertaining to, or capable of walking: an ambulatory exploration of the countryside.

2. adapted for walking, as the limbs of many animals.

3. moving about or from place to place; not stationary: an ambulatory tribe.

4. Also, ambulant. Medicine/Medical.
---a. not confined to bed; able or strong enough to walk: an ambulatory patient.
---b. serving patients who are able to walk: an ambulatory care center.

5. Law. not fixed; alterable or revocable: ambulatory will.

The Ambulatory Liverpool Cathedral Official Hand Book 1927:

The Abbey Church of V├ęzelay: Ambulatory

Ambulatories are also common features in mosques. The Dome of the rock in Jerusalem is a rare example of a double ambulatory. It was originally built to serve as a replacement of the Kaaba in Mecca for the political gain for the Umayyad Empire. This assertion can be supported by the fact that 'the design has an inner and outer ambulatory.' This architectural feature suggests 'that it could have been intended as a rival to Mecca's Kaaba, where ambulation is also a major part of the circumabulation of the black stone*** ritual.' The outer ambulatory consists of eight pillars and between the pillars are two columns, forming three arches. The inner one consists of four pillars and three columns between each pillar, forming a total of sixteen arches. The design is very geometrical in shape. An ambulatory is a 'gesture of respect' that is appealing to the Muslim masses. Above the arches, is the first monumental inscription in Islamic architecture. It reads about 787 feet long, and is a Koranic quotation directed to the 'people of the book.'

***The current ritual of the Hajj involves pilgrims attempting to kiss the black stone seven times (once for each circumambulation of the Kaaba), emulating the actions of Muhammad. When Umar ibn al-Khattab (580-644), the second Caliph, came to kiss the Stone, he said in front of all assembled: "No doubt, I know that you are a stone and can neither harm anyone nor benefit anyone. Had I not seen Allah's Messenger [Muhammad] kissing you, I would not have kissed you." Many Muslims follow Umar: they pay their respects to the Black Stone in a spirit of trust in Muhammad, not with any belief in the Black Stone itself. This, however does not indicate their disrespect to the stone, but their belief that harm and benefit are in the hands of God, and nothing else. In modern times, large crowds no longer make it practically possible for everyone to kiss the stone, so it is currently acceptable for pilgrims to simply point in the direction of the Stone on each of their circuits around the building.

Dome of the Rock: Plan showing Double Ambulatory

Dome of the Rock: Double Ambulatory

Dome of the Rock: Exterior

The idea of the ambulatory is a spatial articulation of the idea of procession. Rather than being a final destination, the ambulatory continues the movement of individuals through the cathedral back in the direction from which they came. As one walks down the aisle towards the ambulatory, a pronounced shift in ceiling height and scale of the spaces becomes apparent. (Note: The Dome of the Rock accomplishes the shift in scale through the massive dome that accompanies the double ambulatory.)

Amiens Cathedral, France: Plan

The narrow aisles that lead to the ambulatory seem to be a provoking juxtaposition to the spatial arrangements of Gothic or baroque or Ancient Greek urban space. The Gothic city is structured by a symbolism of mystical Christianity. Its metaphor is the labyrinth.

Bologna: Aerial View

Cath├ędrale Notre-Dame de Chartres: Labyrinth

'It is composed physically of narrow, winding streets and symbolically of rituals. On sacred days, people would line up in a procession that would wind through the medieval streets, in which there never was a straight line of site on the cathedral, until all of a sudden one would be in the cathedral square and the eye would be from close range overwhelmed by the very size, and then by the abstruseness and mysteries locked in the Gothic structure.'

Medieval City Street

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