Wargames terrain in the 40K universe... Share:

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Research - Religious Architecture

Religious architecture has historically been a catalyst for the creation of communities, places and new and innovative construction. It encompasses a huge array of architectural styles and themes because, unlike most other architecture, is fed from the beliefs, motives and religious faiths of those that worhip within them. Each place of worship will as such vary according to the particular practices and nuances of the religion in question, and we can even see that different branches of the same religion will also show variation.

It would to too exhaustive to go through a complete set of examples, but many of us will be familiar with the concept of a "traditional" christian church or cathedral. And this is as good an example as any of how beliefs and symbols are used. For instance, the structure was historically aligned in order that the congregation face eastwards - towards the rising sun, and the floor plan mimics the shape of a cross. However, both of these things are generally a result of the religious beliefs of christians, and developed a period of time.

So, lets take a little time to describe and identify the plan of a Christian church. You can see from the plan here (of Florence Cathedral, Italy) the distinctive cross shape. In this case, it is a "Latin Cross" (as opposed to a "Greek Cross") because one part is longer than the rest, this one is called the Nave. Columns (otherwise known as an Arcade) will separate the Nave from the Aisles either side of it which are usually not as tall. Where the Aisles are as tall the church is known as a Hall Church, a style more common in Germany. The Nave and Aisles lead up to the Crossing.

This forms the apex of the church, the focal point and it is usually topped with a spire, or dome. Internally this area is marked out by large columns required to bear the weight of the tall structure. The shorter arms either side of this are known as Transepts and form the symbolism of the cross. These are often dedicated to particular saints with separate chapels or dedicated to particular aspects of the life of Christ - such as the Nativity (as can be seen in the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona). The Florence Cathedral does not have a Choir behind the Crossing, instead just terminating in an Apse. This is a semi circular ending, and in this case both Transepts also terminate in Apses.

Of course, when we are making terrain in the 40K universe we have to know what symbols or features are present due to religious reasons and what exists due to necessary construction etc. For instance, we can see that other forms of religious architecture do not take up this cross shaped plan. A prime example would be the Pantheon in Rome, which has a large circular plan with a number of areas of dedication - perfect for the polytheism of ancient Rome. Once you have made this distinction, you can understand that prior to Christ, the ideas and symbols which we now recognise in Christian Churches were not developed... they came as a result of Christian beliefs, as opposed to being adopted from previous architecture.

We do know that plans of many religious buildings contain within them combinations of simple geometry. Often referred to as sacred geometry, the more complex the interaction and layering of such geometry, the more complex the overall building. Indeed, golden and geometric ratios were often employed in Greek and Roman architecture. This combination of ratios helps to give buildings such as the Florence Cathedral a sense of proportion - even though stands as the biggest building for miles! Whilst we can identify that a cross shape would not be part of a 40K ecclesiarchal building, other structural elements such as the Nave and Aisles can be quite at home, as can a number of chapels, each dedicated to different saints. This is because we know that although worship is centred on the Emperor, we also know that there are a number of saints which may also be revered!

Using information such as this we can not only be guided as to how a shrine or church might look in the 40K universe, but also get some understanding of what might be inside of it. For me, this is important in order to help create a believable piece of terrain. Anyway, I'm sure that this is quite enough jabbering from me.

If you are still interested, and I doubt by now you are, then some further and more detailed information can be found by reading here and other plans of churches can be found here.


  1. Something you didn't mention is the functional aspects of such buildings - the cloisters, refectory, dormitory, and schools, etc as in salisbury, norwich, etc.. and the chapterhouse and oratorium meeting rooms as in york minster for example. Every symbolic element of such buildings is surrounded by a half dozen functional elements to support the people. I think you could add a lot of realism by adding the bits where the servants of the imperium live the day to day :)

    Look fwd to the rest of this - good luck.

  2. Thats a very good point, thank you. Initially of course, it is important to get the main building down, as in real life these additional buildings tended to spring up attached to the religious centres in a rather more haphazard way.

    I will do a little bit more research and see what ideas that brings!