I have been thinking alot about Church floors recently. It was the dust last week, it had got from the Church, through the sacristy, into my house. This week it is the smell of the varnish, it is taking the same route.
A reader sent me a picture of Holbeins, The Ambassadors, the picture is, it is actually about the break of Henry VIII with the Church, it is full of details that betray the drama leading up to Good Friday 1533.
What used to intrigued me as a child was the skull in the foreground, which I discovered myself as an eight year old skulking around the National Gallery. Then the scientific instruments took over, that lute with broken string, the protestant hymn book.
Now it is the floor, everyone knows it is a representaion of the pavement of the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey (above) but I discovered only a few days ago that it could be the Sistine Chapel (below) too.
Now, wouldn't something like this be splendid in our Church? The problem is, of course, it most probably wouldn't be allowed.
The floor represents the Cosmos, the four humours and elements that govern the created order. It is a direct reference to ancient temples being a model of the Universe. Some scholars suggest when Jesus prophecied the end of the World he was speaking about the destrution of the Temple.
For most people today the iconography is a completly closed book, whereas up until the Reformation its meaning was obvious, at least to the educated. Strange how we have lost a "symbolic" literacy.