Sacred Space

The laws of Nature are written in the language of mathematics … the symbols are triangles, circles, and other geometrical figures, without whose help it is impossible to comprehend a single word.



You have opened a package that does not betray the level of complexity held within. Now you must figure out how to assemble this sacred space.

There are six walls, a roof, and a base that is attached to the inside of the box lid. The base has drilled, brass-lined holes to support the walls and also a printed type collage that becomes the floor pattern. Look closely at the base to find the printed letters corresponding to the appropriate wall. The grouped letters indicate which wall is placed in a particular set of holes. This is important because each panel has slightly different dimensions, some are by design and others are by the nature of the crafting process. The copper insert points can be gently adjusted with pliers if they have been knocked out of alignment.

The wall panels can be positioned to read correctly either from outside or inside the structure. The long side panels, containing the open pediments, should be installed first. These will add pressure to the interior walls once the roof is rested on the pediment edges. The interior walls can be adjusted so that they are perpendicular to the base.

The roof rests over the pediment edges leading to the back wall and on the top edge of the front wall. This wall is a double square in height and has an open panel at ground level to create a vestibule in which is read a Galileo quote. The roof has no copper support from the midpoint to its highest point and is held in place by tension and gravity.

What follows are three individual impressions of sacred space.

William Bunce, from a conversion with Caren Heft that Bill Bunce later put to paper

This text is on loan with the extreme generosity of Caren Heft.

Of course the Plexi shack is an enigma. If you are inside, the walls vanish. If you are outside, you look through the simplicity of the contents to the other outside. Whiskey jacks, tempted by men with food, land on the single roof beam and whoosh down the forty-five degree angle shack roof, rappelled by nothing visible. The sheet metal airtight stove keeps the interior sauna warm and after a day in soggy hunting wool the men are casual in their nakedness and keenly aware of its freedom. Four by eight sheets of Plexiglas hauled by snowmobile to a remote island on a great Canadian lake, held together with screws in slender cedar logs have made voyeurs of all they impinge on – curious hungry whiskey jacks, grouse too simple to fear the frying pan, skunk snugly under the cedar floor, twitching curious doe and the men, watching the passers, themselves occasionally and each other when they think themselves unnoticed.

No pitched tent accomplishes this. Like imagined Eden, benign unbarred simplicity shapes the movement of the hunters. They scatter Red River cereal on the floor and the grouse cluck while they breakfast. Rather than shooting, they leave the skunk a peace treaty of two rice-filled mud hens every night. They portion out their thirty-five-water-mile Winesap apples with the deer and hunt other islands. At night they look inside each other and are content that each, continents different, should be who he is. They are silly with each other and now and then tease their callers. They reunite many, many times and nothing changes except perhaps the golden retriever who plays more often with the beaver, hauling logs.

They returned to celebrate intentionally this now sacred Plexi. Different voyeurs have taken it apart and away leaving only a few screws and a smashed bottle. They both cry. One vomits over the side of the canoe.

Thomas Merton, from “Dialogues with Silence”

You have called me here in solitude to be Your son: to be born over again repeatedly in Your light, into knowledge, into consideration, into gratitude and poverty, and into praise.

Here in this hermitage I will learn from the words of Your friends to be Your friend and here I will be a friend to those in whom You send me Your Son.

If I have any choice to make, it is to live and even die here. But in any case, it is to speak Your name with confidence here in this place, to say it by being here and by having You in my heart, as long as I can be here.

Father, I beg You to teach me to be a man of peace and to help bring peace to the world, to study here truth and nonviolence, and to have the patience and courage to suffer for truth.

Send me Your Holy Spirit, unite me with Your divine Son, make me one with You in Him, for Your great glory. Amen.

William E. Barrett, from “The Lilies of the Field”

He went out to face the dragon and the dragon was waiting for him. “Schmidt,” Mother Maria Marthe said, “Ve build a Shapel. I show you.”

She led the way with firm tread to the old foundation over which a house had burned. Coarse grasses had grown around it and the foundation itself was a pit into which ash and brick and consumed timbers had fallen. She reached into her pocket and produced a sketch on a piece of coarse wrapping paper. It was a good sketch of a small church, a frame church that looked like many Baptist churches in the south except that it did not have a steeple. There was a cross on the first roof truss above the door.

“Who builds it?” he said.

Her eyes drilled into him. She was patient and she could wait upon the perception of a dull-witted male. Homer looked from the unsightly foundation to the sketch and back again. There was a pile of new lumber behind the barn.

“If you think that I’m building that, you’re out of your mind,” he said. “I’m one man. I ain’t no contractor with crew. I don’t need all that work, neither.” He handed the sketch back to her. “No.”


Imagine first being in and out of the Plexiglas hunting cabin. Over the years it becomes invested with positive experiences that cause it to evolve into a space that has mystical implications. In the end it becomes like Brigadoon, Shangri-La, or Eden. Now imagine a more formal building that maintains the same transparency and skeletal structure. It is built at either an intimate or grand scale. Both nurture an element of the sacred. A small chapel is an intimate space quite dependent on the exterior influences. A larger structure flirts with the prominence of a basilica.

At a separate time Caren Heft had described the text written by Bill Bunce, about his sacred space. In a late night conversation about the nature of basilicas, chapels, and other sacred spaces, she agreed to temporarily part with his text so that sailorBOYpress could use it as an example. Bill had been such a pivotal figure in the book arts community and had a strong sense of the reverential. Though his building was quite different from ours, we think that we can easily worship in either.

We have been working over the last year on this project to define and propose a sacred space devoted to creation, the alphabet, and mathematics. This chapel will be built at a later date. Several paths have been explored and they have slowly converged to this point. A building has evolved out of many separate events. Steven Ferlauto has, for years, studied the potential mathematics of the Roman alphabet. Jeff Morin has created works that seek to continue a dialogue presented by previous artists who articulate timeless themes of love, God, and desire.


Sacred Space is an extension of Steven Ferlauto’s research presented in The Sacred Abecedarium, brought to the public’s attention in

2000. Inspiration for the project comes from an examination of the role of geometry in the development of the Roman alphabet. With their visual characterization reminiscent of stained glass, the chapel concept and design is a continuation of Steven’s exploration of this sacred theme. This alphabet has been used to adorn classical architecture and now clothes an intimate chapel.

Okawara rice paper forms the skin of the chapel. Technical drawings are transferred to this paper using an inkjet printer. Because of the worry about the light fastness of such inks, sample panels have been hung in the south-facing studio window for several weeks. No change has been noticed in the black while perhaps slight fading has happened with the colors. This is after weeks of exposure to direct, summer sun.

Most of the papers in this book were made during 2002 at Caren Heft’s Root River Mill. By pouring boiling fiber water through the snow, we managed to kill her lawn (so much for mid-winter papermaking). We also learned that Brian Borchardt is a paper savant because his virgin sheet formed perfectly. We took clear advantage of this during the ensuing weeks. The decorative endpapers come from Nepal while texture in the other sheets comes from Siberian iris leaf fiber harvested from the garden.

The Okawara typographic panels are attached to the silver-soldered copper frame with West System epoxy resin. The resin seals the paper and forms a vessel into which EnviroTex polymer coating is poured. These copper and paper panels become the chapel walls set into brass-lined holes. The roof is copper-leafed davey board. All of theses components will age and the building’s color will evolve. This project is funded in part by the University Personnel Development Committee of the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point.

This is in an edition of 35.

Mathematics is the alphabet with which God has created the universe.