Friday, November 19, 2010

Rushton Triangular Lodge

The Triangular Lodge is a folly, designed and constructed between 1593 and 1597 by Sir Thomas Tresham near Rushton, Northamptonshire, England. The stone used for the construction was alternating bands of dark and light limestone.

Tresham was a Roman Catholic and was imprisoned for a total of fifteen years in the late 16th century for refusing to become a Protestant. On his release in 1593, he designed the Lodge as a protestation of his faith. His belief in the Holy Trinity is represented everywhere in the Lodge by the number three: it has three walls 33 feet long, each with three triangular windows and surmounted by three gargoyles. The building has three floors, upon a basement, and a triangular chimney. Three Latin texts, each 33 letters long, run around the building on each facade. The quotations are:

1.Aperiatur terra & germinet Salvatorem : "Let the earth open and … bring forth salvation" (Isaiah 45:8)

2.Quis separabit nos a charitate Christi? : "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" (Romans 8:35)

3.Consideravi opera tua, Domine, et expavi : "I have contemplated thy works, O Lord, and was afraid" (a paraphrase of Habakkuk 3:2

The windows on each floor are of a different designs, all equally ornate. The largest, those on the first floor, are in the form of a trefoil, which was the emblem of the Tresham family. The basement windows are small trefoils with a triangular pane at their centre. The windows on the ground floor are of a lozenge design, each having 12 small circular openings surrounding a central cruciform slit. Heraldic shields of various families surround these windows


The slightly raised ground floor has an entrance in the south-east facade. Over the door, beneath Tresham's coat of arms, is the Latin inscription: Tres testimonium dant , meaning "The number three bears witness" or "Tresham bears witness" (Tres was the pet name his wife used for Tresham in her letters). Also above the door are the numbers "5555". The figures are oddly shaped, and architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner speculated that this may once have read "3333", but that number seems to have no particular significance. It has, however, been pointed out [4] that if 1593 is subtracted from 5555, it leaves 3958 (the date, BC, of the Flood, according to Bede).

The principal room on each floor is hexagonal, thus leaving the three corner spaces triangular; one of these spaces contains a spiral staircase, the remaining two are small rooms.

The building is crowned, above the quotations on each facade, by three steep gables each surmounted by a three-sided obelisk at the apex. Among the emblems carved on the gables are, on the southeast side, the highly symbolic seven-branched candelabrum within an octagonal plaque, and a heptagonal plaque depicting the seven eyes of God. On the north side are a Pelican in her piety, a symbol of Christ and the Eucharist, and a Hen and Chickens; on the southwest gable are a Dove and Serpent; and the Hand of God touching a globe. The triangular chimney is adorned with the holy monogram "IHS", a lamb and cross, and a chalice.

While the lodge is indisputably a testament to Tresham's faith, it is also an example of the Elizabethan love of allegory. Carved in the gables are the numbers "3509" and "3898": these are said to be the dates (BC) of the Creation and the Calling of Abraham. Among the more recent dates carved on the building are 1580, thought to be the date of Tresham's conversion, and also the future (at the time of their carving) dates 1626 and 1641 - to what do they refer? One suggestion [5] is that not only are they divisible by three, but that, when 1593 is subtracted from them, they give 33 and 48, the years in which Jesus and the Virgin Mary are said to have died.

What I find most interesting about this building is that 3 is a difficult number to build with as 2 cannot be evenly divided into 3 parts.  Finding a centerline is a common layout practice which typically involves dividing a dimension by two.  So, not only was this building a puzzler from an allegorical standpoint, it was also a challenge for the builder. Additionally, from a fenestration perspective, three windows is not typical at all because it overemphasizes the centerline and makes for an odd looking, unbalanced facade.

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