Feature Articles – Otherworldly Capitals
Two capitals, London and Washington, were (re)designed in the 17th and 18th century so that they would incorporate the so-called Tree of Life, a divine design, which would hopefully allow the nations’ rulers to synchronize their worldly ambitions with those of the Divine Realm.
by Philip Coppens
After the Great Fire that swept London in 1666, the leading geniuses of England saw in this horror an opportunity to transform London to the splendor that was Paris. Paris had always received extraordinary city planners, who had drawn wide boulevards and axes, the most famous being the Champs d’Elysées, running out from the Louvre. London on the other hand had grown over many centuries, without little town planning, and as a result the streets were often narrow and, in the eyes of the Londoners, unfit for a city of its renown. Still, what is bad in the eyes of some, is good in the eyes of others. Because the City of London was never transformed after the Great Fire, today, it still feels more like a village, with the houses pulled skywards. But after the Great Fire, London would be transformed, and this according to sacred and cosmic principles.
The fire ravaged through the City from September 2 , for three days. Then, on September 11, Christopher Wren, one of the most acclaimed architects of his time, visited King Charles II at Whitehall, carrying with him new plans for a new and improved London. The blueprints of Wren’s vision have survived and show an extraordinary level of detail, suggesting that Wren had been working on this for several months – long before the Fire broke out. The Fire was the opportunity to present his plans to the king. Sir Christopher Wren That Wren was interested in city planning should not come as a surprise; Wren had spent eight months in Paris, where he had been exposed to its monumental avenues that he clearly wanted to see in London. His vision was for a central axis, running from Aldgate to the Strand, passing through a series of star-shaped plazas, from which other roads led to secondary centers of the City. One of these open plazas, in the shape of an octagon, was located just past Ludgate. He also incorporated a second avenue, from the Tower of London, along Cannon Street, up to St Paul’s. All of these innovations would create a London that was far more open, far more like Paris.
But Wren’s design for London was far more intricate than merely mimicking Paris. According to Wren’s own son, his father saw London as “a city particularly favored by the celestial influences, a Pandora, on which each planet has contributed something.” Wren lived under the age-old dictum of “As Above, So Below”, which suggested that the powers of the universe could be brought down by building according to sacred principles, so that buildings corresponded to planets and constellations. This approach was still very much a heresy in the 17th century, but England had broken with the powers of the Vatican less than a century ago; in the 17th century, England was carving out its own unique path. Indeed, using such correspondences between heaven and the buildings of the City was to reinforce the position that the City was indeed the center of a new religion.
The telltale center of England’s religious life had become St Paul’s Cathedral, whose spire had alas been felled during the Great Fire. Reconstructing St Paul’s would become Wren’s lasting legacy. And it would be the king himself who wrote a sermon that said that St Paul’s Cathedral was to be the center of a royalist New Jerusalem, suggesting that the king wanted to rebuild London as a New Jerusalem, or Heaven on Earth – As Above, So Below.
In September 1666, Wren was not the only one with plans for London; another design was submitted to the king by John Evelyn, who visited the king on September 13, two days after Wren. Evelyn’s plan was based on the number 12 – prominent in the symbolism of the New Jerusalem – and specifically wanted to see twelve interconnecting squares and piazzas as the central design of the New London.
When the plans are compared, what becomes apparent is that both plans are very similar, which is remarkable as Wren is known to have worked on his design in secret, not even consulting with other members of the Royal Society, with some feeling that he actually should have consulted them first before submitting his plans to the king. As both plans are so similar, it is clear that both men must have communicated with one another at some point, a conclusion accepted by historian Adrian Tinniswood: “They both proposed that the area between Temple Bar and the Fleet should be given over to a piazza which would form the intersection of eight streets radiating out on the points of the compass. They both enclosed the buildings which fronted onto this piazza with an octagon of connection streets. They both made the entrance of the northern end of London Bridge a focal point of their plan, and created a semicircular piazza as a grand introduction to it. They both sent main thoroughfares in from the east to converge at St Paul’s.” These are all details, making it impossible that great minds were merely thinking alike; they were clearly thinking together. According to Tinniswood, Evelyn himself implied that the two men had indeed discussed their schemes on or immediately before September 11. The New London, according to Christopher Wren The New London, according to John Evelyn Authors Graham Hancock and Robert Bauval have identified that both plans for a New London incorporated a design that was based on the Tree of Life, the central core of the Kabbalah. The Tree of Life is linked with the Sepher Yetzirah, or the Book of Creation, which reflects the creative act on the part of the godhead manifesting in ten distinct stages of emanation, which is the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life is therefore a path to and from God. It is both the path of creation, but also the path of transformation, which anyone can walk in order to meet the Divine, and vice versa.
As London was about to become the New Jerusalem, incorporating the Tree of Life in its design should therefore fall within the line of expectations: the Tree is mentioned in the Book of Revelation, where it is said that the righteous will “have the right to the Tree of Life and will enter by the gates of the city.”
When the Tree of Life design is superimposed on Evelyn’s plan, St Paul’s Cathedral corresponds to Tipheret, the sephirah known as “Beauty”. It was the place linked with the sun, from which light and life radiated outwards. St Paul’s, indeed, was meant to become the new spiritual center of the New Jerusalem. The octagon to be designed near Ludgate was to correspond with Yesod, “Foundation”, while Evelyn wanted a foundation on the marketplace on Gracechurch Street, which would represent the hidden Sephirah, Daat – from which was said to emanate the fountain of knowledge. Clearly, all of these elements were done by design, not coincidence. Researcher David Bowman has gone as far as to propose that the new floor plan of St Paul’s Cathedral itself was based on the Tree of Life, noting that “there are ten domes aligned with both main axes representing the ten spheres of Sephiroth or Tree of Life.” The cathedral was entered through the vestibule which represented the tenth sphere, known as Malkuth, “Kingdom”. Any visitor to the Cathedral would walk through it as one travels through the paths of the Tree of Life, going up the levels of creation, towards God – what more appropriate design could there be for a church? Plan of St Paul’s Cathedral Interestingly enough, Evelyn was clearly an expert in the Tree of Life, but is generally regarded as an expert on actual trees and gardens. He was, however, a very well-read man and known to have an extensive library, as well as a prolific author. The likes of Robert Lomas have tried to argue that Evelyn was a Freemason, but no real evidence for this claim has so far been uncovered. Christopher Wren equally has often been claimed as a Freemason and for him, some evidence has been put forward. The claim is that he was a member of the Lodge of Antiquity No. 2, one of the four founding lodges of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717. It is said that Wren became a Master while he was rebuilding St Paul’s Cathedral, “adopted” on May 18, 1691. The evidence suggests that he was more of an honorary member than an operative freemason, and even if he were, it seems that his initiation occurred several decades after 1666, when he put forward the plans for the Tree of Life. It therefore seems that Wren, like Evelyn, had a personal interest in the Tree of Life which was not linked with any Masonic alliance. The two men may have read about the importance of the Tree of Life in some of the many books they perused. Still, others have argued that the Royal Society, of which Wren was a member, was far more of an esoteric organization than it is generally assumed to be. Indeed, the Royal Society is often seen as a the creator of “science” and the scientific approach, and though that is correct, it appears that their drive for the scientific method was because they wanted to prove certain magical aspects. In short, members of the Royal Society seem to have realized that certain age-old tenants of alchemy and esoteric knowledge had never been proven; if they could “scientifically prove” some of these processes, then what was “known” to be true by the adapts, would become “fact”.
Within this framework, Wren would have been a practicing Kabbalist/alchemist, who realized that by incorporating the design of the Tree of Life into the layout of London, the capital would become predisposed to Divine Rule. The concept of a “New Jerusalem”, though overtly Christian at first, is in truth but the latest layer of veneer on a much older concept, which is that cities should be design according to divine ratios and layouts, so that “good energy” would “vibrate” throughout the city. Most of the redesign of London proposed by Wren and Evelyn was not executed, but a century later, the same concept of incorporating a Tree of Life formed the heart of the design of America’s new capital city: Washington. The man credited with this design was Pierre-Charles L’Enfant, a Parisian-born painter and sculpture who had studied the magical gardens of André Le Notre, who had designed the Tuileries Garden in Versailles and the great Historical Axis of Paris.
L’Enfant created a central east-west axis, materialized in the Mall that ran from the US Capitol to the not yet constructed Washington Monument. But what underlines this plan is a diamond-shaped design that betrays that L’Enfant had been inspired by the Tree of Life. From the Capitol, two avenues shoot out, one to the southwest, another to the northwest, forming the upper portion of the Tree of Life. The Capitol was therefore identified with the first sephirah, that of the divine emanation. In this design, the Washington Monument coincides with the Tipheret, or “Beauty”, representing the sun. As obelisks in Ancient Egypt were linked with the sun, it is probably not a coincidence that the Washington Monument was an obelisk!
Both designs make it clear that both Wren and L’Enfant were part of a tradition which believed that imposing the Tree of Life design on a nation’s capital would make it a true “center of the universe”. It would bring down the powers of the divine, in service of the leaders of that nation, whether they were kings or presidents. Their rule would be on par with the rules of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs, who saw themselves as mediators between the physical and divine realm.