Wednesday, 28 July 2010


The Church of St. John the Evangelist stands at the bottom of Brunswick Street, Whitby. Built in 1848-50 in Early English style as a chapel of ease for St. Mary's. It later became a district church within the parish of Whitby.

Either side of the entrance to the church which opens onto Brunswick Street, in a pair of gables, high up and slightly set back, can be seen two unusual windows. Their shape is known variously as the vesica piscis or mandorla. It is highly symbolically significant .

The vesica piscis (literally 'fish bladder') is derived from the intersection of two circles signifying the overlap between the divine and the worldly. Turned on its side it becomes the Christian fish symbol or Ichthus often seen emblazoned on modern cars.

An alternative name for the vesica piscis is the mandorla, the Italian word for almond. In a pre-christian ancient Turkish legend the god Attis was born to a virgin mother named Nana. She conceived by placing an almond between her breasts. The nut or seed is a clear indicator of the potential for new life, and the shape also suggests the female genitalia.

In art it is known as an aureole. A kind of halo encompassing the whole body. Many depictions of Christ show him within a mandorla, showing simultaneously the fact that he bridges the gap between the earthly and the heavenly, and that he was the fruit of a virgin womb.

As with so many buildings in Whitby, there's a lot more to enjoy if you cast your eyes heavenwards.

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