The Importance of Monuments
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The 7 Wonders of the Ancient World
In the 5th century, Greek Historian, Herodotus, described the seven wonders of the ancient world. These were known for their size, material, engineering, beauty and symbolic power. The seven Wonders of the Ancient World included: The Great Pyramid of Chephren at Giza; the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus; the Colossus of Rhodes; the Pharos (Lighthouse) of Alexandria; the Statue of Zeus at Olympia and the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus.
From ancient times, temples, statues, towers, markers, tombs and other structures have defined public places, extoled ideals, characterised societies and symbolised who we are. Monuments can express the collective goals, joys and sorrows of a society.
Monuments Reflect Identity
The word monument comes from the Latin word moneo, which means to remind. A monument is anything that reminds us of a person, an event, or an idea from the past. A monument is a way in which society remembers its past and formulates its identity and future hopes.
Communication, Education and Inspiration
Monuments communicate, much like books do. Everything in a monument is significant. The scale, setting, gestures and expressions of human figures, all convey meaning. Monuments can narrate a tale, or evoke a significant historic event. Battlesites are often monuments. Monuments elicit nostalgia, pride, empathy, sorrow, compassion and respect. Even more powerfully than the written word can.
Because monuments are generally intended to be permanent, to educate and remind future generations of values, personalities and events deemed significant, many monuments have been made of lasting material such as stone, marble, bronze, iron and steel.
Traditions and Calendars
However, monuments can also be traditions:
The fact that we have a seven-day week is a monument to the fact that God created the World in six days and rested on the seventh.
The institution of Sunday, as a day of rest, is a monument to the fact the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the First Day of the week.
The Lord’s Supper is also a memorial.
The term holiday comes from the term holy day.
The holidays a nation chooses have great cultural significance.
The farewell greeting: Goodbye, comes from the old English prayer, God be with ye.
In Austria, the greeting is Gruessgott, or Greetings in God.
Books Can Be Monuments
However, monuments are not only buildings and sculptures, but also books and manuscripts. What we call Foxes Book of Martyrs, was first published in English in 1563 under the title: Acts and Monuments of these Latter and Perilous Days.
When the Temporary Becomes Permanent
However, some monuments were originally meant to be temporary. For example, the Eiffel Tower in Paris was erected for the 1889 International Exposition and meant to be dismantled shortly afterwards. However, over the years, the Eiffel Tower became synonymous with the City of Paris and so has remained a permanent structure in the physical and emotional landscape of France.
The Eiffel Tower
When Gustave Eiffel built the mammoth tower on the left bank of the Seine River, for the 1889 International Exposition, his goal was to display the potential of new industrial metals for architecture. At the time, the tower was highly controversial. Many 19th century Parisians criticised it as being “un-French” in its design. However, the Eiffel Tower survives because of its practical use as a radio tower.
Symbolism in Monuments
There is much in monuments which is symbolic:
The 49 steps up to Rhodes Memorial, symbolises the 49 years he lived.
The 36 Doric columns of the Lincoln memorial in Washington D.C. symbolised the number of states in the Union at the time of the president’s death.
The Statue of Liberty in New York city is personified as a robed woman standing on broken chains, representing tyranny.
Community and Nationhood
Monuments help people feel connected to their collective past, common tradition and shared experience.
Many monuments embody the virtues that a society wants to hold dear, such as: Liberty; Justice; Freedom and Courage.
Some monuments become synonymous with the cities they occupy. To many, the Eiffel Tower symbolises Paris; the Colosseum is Rome. In many cities their public monuments define their civic identity. Many town governments depict their monuments on banners, city seals, number plates and other official objects.
The Tower of Pisa
In Renaissance Italy, bell towers were erected as symbols of the city’s wealth and prominence. When its construction began in 1174, the Tower of Pisa was intended to be just such a prestigious symbol. However, the ill-fated monument began to list to one side, even before its completion and all subsequent efforts to stabilise its weak foundations have failed. But today, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is the most famous of all the Tuscan Bell Towers, precisely because of its curious angle.
The famous Bell Tower, Big Ben, is dear to the hearts of Londoners and a symbol of that city. The name refers not to the tower itself, but to its largest bell which was cast by Sir Benjamin Hall and weighs over 13.5 tonnes.
The Statue of Liberty is the most famous colossal statue since the Colossus of Rhodes. The statue of Colossus was destroyed in an earthquake in the 3rd century B.C.
Some ancient monuments are a mystery. The Moai Statues on Easter Island were carved out of soft volcanic lava and stand over 9m. No one knows how each 16-tonne stone was moved, or erected. The local people have long forgotten the purpose of these giant stones. The significance of these imposing, compelling images remains unexplained.
Stonehenge, consisting of giant megaliths in a circle, or cromlech, is orientated towards the Summer solstice. It is not clear how these ancient giant sandstones and bluestones were transported from the quarry site, which is over 200 km away.
The Sphinx, erected about 2,500 B.C., stands majestically alongside the great Pyramids of Gisa in Egypt. The Sphinx is apparently the oldest colossal structure to survive from the ancient world and depicts a giant hybrid beast with the body of a lion and the face of a man.
The Romans erected triumphal arches throughout their territories to celebrate military victories. Napoleon Bonaparte sought to emulate his ancient predecessors by erecting the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, to stir patriotism at home by symbolising military victories abroad.
Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square in London, stands 44 metres high. It commemorates the great Naval victory of the Battle of Trafalgar, 1805.
The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China and Hadrian’s Wall are monuments to attempts by civilisation to protect its people and possessions from foreign attack. Built in the 5th century B.C., the Great Wall of China spans 2,414 km across the Asian continent.
Hadrian’s Wall, built by the Romans, stretches 129 km, separating England from Scotland.
The Brandenburg Gate
The Brandenburg Gate was originally erected in Berlin in 1791, as a symbol of peace. For years, it symbolised the Cold War, the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, separating Communist enslaved Eastern Europe from the West, flashpoint of the conflict between totalitarianism and freedom. Since the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, it has again become a symbol of freedom and resistance to oppression.
Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota, depicts American presidents: George Washington; Thomas Jefferson; Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. The granite Mount Rushmore monument depicts 60-foot high faces, some 500-feet above the ground.
Stone Mountain, near Atlanta, Georgia, is the largest relief sculpture in the world, commemorating Southern Leaders, General Stonewall Jackson; Robert E. Lee and President Jefferson Davis. Stone Mountain, completed in 1972, sits 400-feet above the ground and measures 90 by 190-feet.
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
In Berlin, the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche remains as a reminder of the destruction of the bombing of Berlin by the remaining bomb-scarred bell tower standing next to the new cathedral.
Hiroshima’s Peace Park
The Peace Park in Hiroshima, in Japan, commemorates the victims of the first atomic bomb ever dropped on a city, 6 August 1945. The shattered Dome of the Hospital which was the epicentre of the A-bomb explosion remains as it was at the time of detonation.
In Genesis 28, we read that after Jacob’s encounter with the Lord, he declared: “…How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of Heaven!” Genesis 28:17. Then Jacob arose early that morning and took the stone that he had used to rest his head on and set it up as a pillar and anointed it with oil, declaring: “…If God will be with me and keep me in this way that I am going and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my Father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house and of all that You give me, I will surely give a tenth to You.” Genesis 28:20-22
God Commanded Joshua to Build a Monument
In Joshua 4, we read that, after the people of Israel had crossed the Jordan River, the Lord commanded Joshua to select 12 men, one from every Tribe of Israel, to take up a stone from the midst of the Jordan and to use them to erect a monument close to the River. “that this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’…And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.” Joshua 4:6-7
In John 4, we read of our Lord coming to Sychar, in Samaria, where He witnessed to the woman at Jacob’s Well. It is recorded that: “…our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?” John 4:12. That is an acknowledgement that well over 1,800 years later, the people still remembered and acknowledged it as Jacob’s well.
The Voortrekker Monument
The Voortrekker Monument outside Pretoria, 40-metres high, with a base of 40m by 40m. It contains the largest marble frieze in the world. This frieze consists of 27 marble relief panels depicting the history of the Great Trek, the life, struggles and fervent Christian Faith of the Voortrekkers. In many ways the massive marble frieze depicts the vision, journeys, sufferings and achievements of the Voortrekkers, paralleling the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt.
The Centrality of God’s Word
The Greek Cross floor plan reflects the fact that the New Testament was revealed in Greek. The centrality of the Word of God is emphasised. The monument’s huge upper dome was designed to draw the visitors’ eye upwards, towards God, who is our Creator, Sovereign Lord and Eternal Judge.
Nature and History
As God communicates in General Revelation through nature and Special Revelation through Scripture, the architect determined to focus on the Word of God and the works of God, both in history and in nature.
The Creation Mandate
The beautiful garden of indigenous flowers, plants and trees surrounding the monument, reflects our duty to fulfil the Cultural Mandate. The 3,4 km² area around the monument was declared a Nature Reserve in 1992. Zebra, Blesbuck, Mountain Reedbuck, Springbuck and Impala flourish in this Nature Reserve.
Duty and Destiny
The Bible presented by the English-speaking 1820 Settlers, to the departing Voortrekkers is prominent in the marble historic frieze, emphasising the importance of the Great Commission. God has placed us at the foot of Africa to take the light of the Gospel of Christ throughout Africa.
Consecration for the Great Commission
From a distance, the Voortrekker Monument resembles an altar, symbolising the Afrikaans peoples’ determination to be consecrated to God, for the fulfilment of the cultural mandate, to care for God’s creation and to develop civilisation in the wilderness and a commitment to fulfilling the Great Commission throughout Africa.
It Is Not the Critic That Counts
Theodore Roosevelt observed: “It is not the critic that counts – nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled; nor whether the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause. Who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and; who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while doing greatly. So that his place shall never be where those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
“Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted… Now all these things happened to them as examples and they were written for our admonition…” 1 Corinthians 10:6,11
Dr. Peter Hammond
P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725
Cape Town South Africa
Why Should I Care About Dates in History?
Beheading the Monument to Cecil John Rhodes
The Voortrekker Monument
The 1820 Settlers
Understanding Church History
Understanding South African History
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