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  1. I am in Florence right now. Last night I downloaded the prayer wheel, and today I went to the Duomo. The dome is strikingly like the wheel. Apparently you ‘read ‘ the dome from the inside/top (the light of god), on out/down, moving from angels to good gifts to bad stuff. Seeing the two so close in time made me wonder if people who used the wheel also had experience with this kind of cathedral dome. If so, it might explain why someone thought to pull the ends of Augustine’s chart together. I think familiarity with dome architecture would make the prayer wheel more viscerally meaningful. One notable difference between the two — the wheel has seven paths; the dome has eight sides. According to our guide the number eight is significant for a number of reasons. One is that it represents the eight day — which doesn’t exist on the calendar. The eight day is the day of resurrection. And on the dome one side has a painting of Christ with arms outstretched. It makes sense that the wheel only has seven if we’re all working our way to God. I also thought that perhaps it would make sense to pray one path each day of he week? Then perhaps we are ready for the eight day.

    One other thought — I wonder about eras/schools of thought re the role of people in choosing their own destiny. The prayer wheel suggests quite a bit of agency. Did that ebb and flow? Or was it more pronounced in some places/groups than others?

    1. Hi, LCH. Lucky you to be in Flrorence and at the Duomo! I hadn’t known that it had its own dynamic from center to perimeter. I think it’s quite likely that there’s a relationship between that and the shape and flow of the Prayer Wheel, but in the reverse order. The great domed Gothic cathedrals, starting with the one at Saint-Denis, were ornaments of the mid-12th century and forwards, partly because the builders had not redeveloped the necessary architectural tools. We’ve estimated that the Wheel was drafted in the 11th century, and our version probably at around 1100. But without having done a study on it, I think that the fascination with circles and prayerfully meditative voyages within them expressed so beautifully in the Wheel continued to flower in the great Christian architectural monuments like the Duomo. Both took the believer’s heart on a geometric pilgrimages, inspired by actual physical pilgrimages to relics and the Holy Land that were even earlier. A big concept among Benedictine monastic thinkers at the time of the Wheel and a little before was one of going out and coming back, which you can actually find spelled out in the Lord of the Rings books by Tolkien, who was… a medievalist. Neither the Wheel as we recreated it nor the Duomo as it was described to you involve both parts of this journey, although if you put them together they would! FYI, two other architectural expressions of Whee-like geometricl spirituality contemporary with the Duomo were the rose window and the great maze in the foundation of the Chartres Cathedral.

      Regarding your question about agency, I think you’re right that it ebbs and flows. Also that it can flow in one way while being pretty static in another. Lauren Mancia, a historian at Brooklyn College who was very helpful to us with the book, told us that the idea of different contemplative paths to God was typical of Benedictine thought. However, on a kind of macro level, my impression is that the big theological questions were more or less set in stone from the 500s through to the mid 1000s at the earliest, without much room for individual agency. When the big plates finally did begin to move partly in response to the rediscovery of Aristotelian thought and a new desire for a more emotional spirituality, the Church became very concerned with figuring out which of the new ideas it regarded as valid and which were heresies. That was a period of agency with possible consequences. Then with the Reformation you see the dawn of individual agency as a founding principle, insofar as everyone was supposed to have his or her personal relationship with scripture; but the Reformers, especially Calvin, didn’t believe that humans had any agency at all vis a vis God and the life to come. Ebbing and flowing, indeed. Best, David. And thanks you for your fascinating observations and questions!

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