A Case for the Symbolism of Swords and Metalworking

David BrodeurSymbolic World Icon
September 21, 2023
Source: “Roman de toute chevalerie d’Eustache (ou Thomas) de Kent, England”, 1308-1312, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Fr. 24364, fol. 61r

When he established the heavens I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the deep.

– Proverbs 8:27

Introduction

Tradition attributes to Saint Bernard, in his definition of sacred geometry, the saying that proportion is more important than decoration.1 He mentions that the purpose of proportion in art is to mirror reality, and to give it meaning. Those in the Middle Ages who made use of sacred geometry (such as in art, architecture, the manufacturing of weapons, and so on) were seeking to unite two worlds. One was of the visible material realm before them, the other of higher and invisible realities of the heavens; that is, proportion and numbers. From this union, they could derive meaning. This partly explains the putative quote from Saint Bernard: if we give too much importance to decoration (that is, external factors), we give too much importance to inferior, relative realities; only the perfect proportion is the work of the Beautiful and the Good, which naturally comes under God. 

In the Middle Ages, this conception extended to all crafts, including blacksmithing and sword making. The fact that this symbolic view of swords is important and still relevant should be of no surprise to the reader. Many contemporary fantasy stories (generally influenced by medieval literature involving magical swords such as the Arthurian cycle, Chanson de Roland, Beowulf) have used the trope of the magical sword, whether as an instrument of judgment, as a cosmic force that brings harmony, or as an artifact of the past laden with special powers. By contrast, as a psychological extension of the wielder, it is also sometimes portrayed as a force of destruction and chaos, especially by those modern fantasy writers with a more negative outlook on life. A good example of this is the series of books Elric of Melniboné where Stormbringer, the sword of the main character, is a blade of Chaos. The author, Michael Moorcock, has said, “The whole point of Elric’s soul-eating sword, Stormbringer, was addiction: to sex, to violence, to big, black, phallic swords, to drugs, to escape. That’s why it went down so well in the rock’n’roll world.”2 This view holds more to the pagan and generally Germanic tradition of magical artifacts that are cursed — a topic for another day — and modern day sensibilities (all very much influenced by the hermeneutics of doubt, especially a particular reading of Freud). 

We can see many examples of sacred swords in Christian or para-Christian medieval literature as is the case in the Chanson of Roland, an old French poem. In that poem, Charlemagne and some of his knights, including the fierce and noble Roland, are in combat with Muslims from Spain. Roland ends up being deceived and ambushed by the enemy because of a traitor. Not only is there Christic symbolism (killed by a traitor beside a tree), but Roland wields a powerful blade named Durandal. This magical blade is said in legends to have been forged by Wayland the Smith, a magical Germanic smith who also appears in Beowulf. It is said in the poem to have been given by an angel to Charlemagne who then gifted it to Roland. Again, as we see in the Arthurian cycles, this alludes to the relationship between a gift/decision from God and a magical sword. In the story, as he is about to be killed, Roland tries to destroy the blade so that it is not taken by the enemy. Three times he tries, but to no avail: the blade is too powerful. It is not up to him to destroy it as it is derived from heavenly realities. He also mentions whose relics are contained therein: “a tooth from Saint Peter, blood from Saint Basil, hairs from Saint Denis, parts of the clothing of the Virgin Mary.” There is a tradition according to which the sword was then embedded in the stone of a cliff wall in Rocamadour to prevent it from being taken. In the same Song of Roland, it is said that the magical blade of Charlemagne, Joyeuse, has within it the blade of the Holy Spear that pierced the side of Christ. Here, the sword is an extension of the virtue of the user and manifests higher principles: that is, the relics in the sword make the sword holy, not the other way around. 

Furthermore, as per medieval literature, swords can also be symbols of unity, coherence and harmony. This is likewise the case of Narsil in The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. In that story, the sword is reforged after having been broken even as the virtue of the line of kings had been partially lost. The movie makes this even more evident by directly linking the event of the reforging with the advent of the king himself to Gondor (which is not the exact chronology of the book). In Tolkien’s retelling of the Völsung tale in his Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, Odin himself shatters the blade of Sigmund. Sigrlinn gathers the fragments so that they can be reshaped, akin to Narsil in Lord of the Rings. Finally, swords and their making can also be a symbol and/or analogy for higher realms or the extension of will, such as is the case of the movie Conan the Barbarian where steel is equivalent to the will.3 

The main aim of this article, therefore, which can be viewed as a continuation of or complement to Gareth Boyd’s excellent 2020 article on this blog “The Symbolism of Sword & Shield”, is to show that medieval craftsmen and sword users were participating (consciously or not) in a greater symbolic pattern. The creation of a tool (in this case, a tool of war), when appropriately derived from higher realities, participates in these higher-order patterns. In order to illustrate this view, we will first survey the symbolism of swordsmithing through the notion of swords as products of craftsmanship. For this, we will delve into the theories of Peter Johnsson and sacred geometry. The first conclusion will be that swords are inspired by the principles of sacred geometry. Afterwards, we will look at the symbolism of smiths and swords in the Bible and extra-biblical literature to conclude that swords and smiths can be participants in (and extensions of) these symbolic patterns stemming from sacred geometry. 

Swords as the Meeting of Heaven and Earth

The Logos shaping the cosmos, taken from the Bible moralisée of Vienna

Weapon Smithing and Sacred Geometry

In the Middle Ages, weapon blacksmithing was a protected (and sometimes secret) craft like many others.4 Either through guildship, apprenticeship, family, or companies (during the later medieval times), swords were made with special care and generally signed or marked by their creator as a proof of quality. They used advanced techniques (shared through generations; some are probably lost to us) and tools which required great skill, dedication, and knowledge both theoretical and practical. The blacksmiths listened to their blades, and replied to them, carving them according to their nomos and logoi.5 Let’s not forget the impression that people had (and I still do) to think that a group of dedicated craftsmen could turn a pile of rocks into a fine, perfect, and geometrically balanced blade! 

This is where Johnsson comes in: To what degree did geometrical theory, and particularly sacred geometry, play a role in the creation and craft of swords during the Middle Ages? Peter Johnsson is a researcher who had a background in graphic design, illustration, and decorative forging before he moved on to weapon forging.6 For the past 30 years or so he has endeavored to document and study European swords in both museums and private collections, their typologies and styles. His main hypothesis, drawn from a wide range of research, and which I will try to demonstrate in the course of my article, is this: Christian civilization’s artisans made extensive use of numbers and geometry.7 They did so in order to create objects and structures according to harmonic proportions that strike a balance between the rational, the practical, and the symbolic. This geometrical paradigm of crafts included swordmaking, which obeyed the same aesthetic and symbolic ideals that influenced the crafts, architecture and music of its time.

Firstly, like Johnsson, we could consider that because the artisans used such and such a tool, they could achieve such and such a result. For example, architects of the time used two main instruments — the straight board and the compass — and so they worked with the particular geometric shapes achievable with such instruments. The craftsmen involved in the manufacture of weapons also worked with those shapes since they used the same tools. Of course these deductions are made from looking at manuscripts, studies of material tools, reviews of the work of other historians and archaeologists, in the manner of a typical historian's work.

Image 1, Johnsson 2012

Secondly, taking a more practical, experiential approach, Johnsson, being a blacksmith himself, derived additional data from observing historical examples, and from making historically accurate swords. For example, he would take a model of the weapon, define its general characteristics (weight, lengths, and balance, if the weapon was still in good condition), then draw the outline. He would then transfer the tracings and data to a computer and generate the sword in vectorial form in order to be able to calculate its proportions independent of its dimensions (see Image 1). Of course, Johnsson can place all of this information in context because he is himself a weapon blacksmith. It is to this praxeological expertise that he refers in order to know if the weapon is incomplete, if it lacks internal balance, or if it has been modified over time, thus losing material, length, or width. If we mindlessly applied geometric shapes to the weapon without regard for the necessary practicality for both blacksmith and the intended wielder, then as Johnsson says, we would inevitably end up with shapes that intersect the lines of the object of study with no frame to verify our conclusion. He says that the geometric shape must make sense for the blacksmith.8 To fully understand how this or that shape made sense in the Middle Ages, and how they interact with one another, we will now turn to the study of sacred geometry.

Sacred Geometry in Swords

So what is this sacred geometry? It should be noted from the outset that I use the term “sacred”, like other authors who work on the subject, to indicate that the science used here referred to a non-mathematically oriented geometry of a primarily symbolic and practical nature: that is, it has God as both input and output. This is not the secular geometry of modern mathematics, although both rest on exactly the same Euclidean foundations and intersect with one another more than we might think.9 However, sacred geometry has a symbolic aim: numbers have meaning, lines have spiritual applications, forms have corresponding hierarchical divine patterns. 

Sacred geometry, which dates back at least to ancient Greece and ancient Israel — with its important developments on the symbolism of numbers and geometric shapes — was used to explain the higher realities which are, as Plato said, only grasped by the mind. In the West, its influence can be seen in the thought of important figures of Neoplatonism like Iamblichus and Plotinus, as well as that of the Church Fathers and in the teaching of liberal arts (especially the quadrivium). The importance of numbers for the Church Fathers was striking: Augustine and his concern with arithmetic and music; the patristic reading of numbers from the New Testament; the development of harmonic and golden ratio forms from the Book of Kells in Ireland; or the chiastic and harmonic reading of the Scriptures; and so on.10 For does not the Book of Wisdom say, “But you, Lord, have regulated everything with measure, number and weight” (11:20)?

Image 2, Yvo Jacquier, La géométrie avec les yeux (Yvo Jacquier, 2017), p. 49. The lower level/circle is the underground where cathedrals had crypts and bodies of the deceased; it also represented the body. The second level was the earth and the atmosphere, with its firm ground and columns; it also represented the soul. Finally, the third level was the sky (heaven) with its arched dome — much like classical Christian and Judaic cosmology; it also represented the spirit.

These principles of shapes and numbers were applied to the construction of churches and monasteries which culminated in the great cathedrals so rich in geometric rhythm, harmony and symbolism.11 This is, moreover, one of Johnsson’s entry points into his theory: the correspondence between Gothic architecture and the geometry of swords. Professor Santiago Huerta said of Gothic architecture that the best way to understand the symbolic patterns behind cathedrals, which is different from “science” as we understand it in the West, is to study the buildings themselves; it is the same for swords.12

Image 3, Johnsson 2012

When we speak of this symbolic architecture, we speak above all of a scientia which favors the use of simple geometric shapes (triangle, right angle, square, etc.) to form coherent, harmonic sets that respond to each other. Order and harmony are the watchwords, and let us recall the symbolism that accompanies certain geometric shapes (for more, see Images 3 and 4). The interlinked circles represent the relationship of heaven and earth (the first and leftmost figure in Image 3), which also gives rise to the Vesica Pisces, the famous symbol of the early Christians: Christ the God-Man (second figure in Image 3). Then the triangle born of this union which represents the Holy Trinity (third figure in Image 3). Finally, the square, the ultimate symbol of stability and harmony, which in the same movement allows the total cross that recapitulates everything in it (rightmost figure in Image 3).

Image 4, Johnsson 2012

But there are also other meanings and other geometric shapes: the square is also the four Gospels, the four cardinal directions, the stones of the temple; the pentagon is the wounds of Christ, the totality of the human body (head and limbs), the protection (such as seen on many medieval shields), a mountain; the hexagon is the six working days of Creation and therefore a certain perfection of the world; the heptagon is wisdom, as a complete cycle, like the seven mysteries/sacraments, the seven virtues; the octagon is a new beginning (first day of the new week), and a resurrection; the enneagon as Thrice Holy three times, the hierarchy of angels, and also an important pre-Christian number; the decagon is the Ten Commandments, the recapitulation of the whole universe.

Image 5, Johnsson 2012

Another important aspect to consider is the similarity in shape between the cross and the sword. On the one hand, the sword visually resembles an unadorned cross, and with what we just saw, it would be easy to say that this is by design.13 Not only did swords not have this form before the Middle Ages (see for example the “stake” forms of Scandinavian, Germanic or Roman weapons) but they also did not have this symbolism. But even more, there is a link at two other levels beyond the simple glance: on the one hand, the Logos as the Word of God is associated in certain representations as being a sword (that which cuts, distinguishes and orders, see Heb. 4:12) and on the other hand, the geometric shapes at the base of the guards that we saw earlier are also the basis of the construction of different types of crosses and rosaries.

Image 6, Johnsson 2012

Thomas Aquinas — writing in the period when these types of swords were being made — said that when the parts of a whole are arranged in such a way that they combine and complement each other in harmony and refer to a higher union, we see a totality of Being appear in the thing.14 The sword is, like other constructions of the time, an anthropological attempt to achieve this ideal of union of the visible and the invisible in an object through proportions and geometric exercises; the subtle reigns over the dense, the spirit over the material.

Image 7, Johnsson 2012

For Johnsson, it is evident that this period was one where the mystical understanding of objects was commonplace. “Beyond being a weapon,” he says, “the sword also represented secular power, knightly virtues, as well as the spiritual fight against evil” (Johnsson 2012). It is this link between the physical enemy and the spiritual enemy that is so central to Julius Evola's theory of the metaphysics of war: the sword embodies the order of the higher realities by its construction and its symbolism and orders the lower realities by its use; there is, therefore, a union between the two and the fighter works for a greater Good which transcends his survival or his personal victory. 

In this context, therefore, the sword becomes a sacred artifact. The art historian Ananda Coomaraswamy said of medieval art that it was recognized as being sacred because the end was more important than the means, and that is still true here. The sword now serves a higher end in combat, that is to say, sanctification by God; the line between upper and lower reality is abolished in the tool of war. According to Michel Pastoureau, an academic scholar of the Middle Ages, “It is true that in feudal culture, it is generally impossible to clearly separate what is material and what is symbolic, what is technical or ideological.”15 The sword thus envisioned makes use of the same principles that God established for the creation of the world (i.e. geometry) and so gains its own integrity in order to participate in the higher realities. As Johnsson (2012) himself puts it: “In a time when the circle represents God and ‘righteousness is quadrangular’, what better way than combining the circle and the square as the origin for the design of swords that will follow Christian knights in battle?” (see Image 8). 

Image 8, Johnsson 2012
Image 9, Johnsson 2012

Sword as Symbolic Tool

The first mention of a blacksmith in Scripture is Tubal-cain (Gen. 4:22): “As for Zillah, she also gave birth to Tubal-cain, the forger of all implements of bronze and iron; and the sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah.” Some Jewish sources say that Tubal-cain’s name is directly linked with the fact that he “improved” on the work of Cain by creating weapons to kill and conquer. Most of the time, the legends accompanying him are dark. (It is interesting to note that Masonic ritual makes use of the figure of Tubal-cain.) 

In the Enochic literature, Azazel is mentioned as the primary source of weaponsmithing. Before the Flood, he was the leader of the Watchers who descended upon Mount Hermon, and brought many technologies for the sake of doing evil: 

And Azâzêl taught men to make swords, and knives, and shields, and breastplates, and made known to them the metals and the art of working them, and bracelets, and ornaments, and the use of antimony, and the beautifying of the eyelids, and all kinds of costly stones, and all coloring tinctures. And there arose much godlessness, and they committed fornication, and they were led astray, and became corrupt in all their ways. (Enoch IX, 6) 

Azazel is later punished by God for all the unrighteousness he has brought about. A parallel can be made with Prometheus: a spiritual principality who defies the good order of the universe by giving to man something that he is not ready to use properly, thus causing chaos on the earth. Again, the idea of beings bringing metallurgy to men as an act of disobedience to God is present elsewhere in the Basque mythology of the Jentil, the giants. These were a race of strong hairy giants that are said to have brought metallurgy to mankind. Some later committed self-destruction while one embraced Christianity, becoming the Basque ‘Santa’ (Olentzero). 

From the Indo-European point of view, it’s important to note that one of the oldest extant fairy tales is The Smith and the Devil, in which a craftsman has to make a deal with the devil in order to have access to the secret of smelting metal and forging weapons. A reversal of this story can be found in the life of Saint Dunstan, as he was a smith that had encounters with the devil and overcame his influence through the grace of God. 

However, blacksmithing, like most human activities, can be made “holy”. By this we mean that it can be sanctified and oriented towards God as all things once were at the foundation of the world. The best example of this is found in Exodus (31:1–11) where God mentions how craftsmanship is to be used for a sacred purpose as per His plan for us: 

Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship, to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood, that he may work in all kinds of craftsmanship. And behold, I Myself have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and in the hearts of all who are skillful I have put skill, that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, and the ark of testimony, and the mercy seat upon it, and all the furniture of the tent, the table also and its utensils, and the pure gold lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering also with all its utensils, and the laver and its stand, the woven garments as well, and the holy garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments of his sons, with which to carry on their priesthood; the anointing oil also, and the fragrant incense for the holy place, they are to make them according to all that I have commanded you.”

As with all crafts, God can either decide to prevent its use or protect against its effect, as conveyed in Isaiah 54:16–17: 

“See, it is I who created the blacksmith
who fans the coals into flame
and forges a weapon fit for its work.
And it is I who have created the destroyer to wreak havoc;
no weapon forged against you will prevail,
and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
and this is their vindication from me,”
declares the Lord.

This relationship of God to craftsmanship can also be inferred from the importance that smiths in general seemed to have had in Israelite and other ancient societies: “Now no blacksmith could be found in all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, ‘Otherwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears’” (1 Sam. 13:19). The trope of “leading away smiths” (or targeting them specifically to prevent the making of weapons which, with regards to the Philistines, were destined for holy war) is also mentioned in 2 Kings 24:14, Jeremiah 24:1 and Jeremiah 29:2. We can then understand that blacksmithing (especially considering the previous negative view linked with murdering and frivolous decorations), as with any technology, can be seen as a “garment of skin”.16 

The imagery of the smith is used (or implied) for God Himself as the “blacksmith of our soul”: “For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined.... We went through fire and through water; but You brought us out to rich fulfillment [abundance]” (Ps. 66:10–12); “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction” (Is. 48:10); “The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart” (Prov. 17:3); “Son of man, the house of Israel has become dross to Me; they are all bronze, tin, iron, and lead, in the midst of a furnace.... Yes I will gather you and blow on you with the fire of My wrath, and you shall be melted in its midst” (Ez. 22:18–21).

The sword is seen as a symbol of combat: contrary to other weapons like the bow or the spear, swords are specifically made for war. This is also implied in Genesis 3:24, which suggests there was a war in Heaven prior to the Fall or there was a preparation for it. A sword is a weapon of human and spiritual warfare (Gen. 31:26; Gen. 24:25; Ex. 5:3; Lev. 26:7; etc.). It can also be seen as the tool for correcting or punishing; its use can be a consequence of God’s activity in the world with regard to our salvation, as Saint Justin Martyr explains: “And that expression, ‘The sword shall devour you’ (Is. 1:20), does not mean that the disobedient shall be slain by the sword, but the sword of God is fire, of which they who choose to do wickedly become the fuel.”17 This is even true of Israel’s unfaithfulness (Gen. 3:24; Ex. 5:3; Lev. 26:25; Num. 22:31; Deut. 32:41; Zech. 13:7; etc.). It is important to note that the form of the sword existed as a symbol of divine revelation before human smithing activity brought about its manifestation in the material realm (such as Tubal-cain crafting the first weapons of war): in Genesis (3:24), the cherubim with a flaming sword is put at the entrance of the Garden to stop man from entering. 

There are also some other references to a sword in the New Testament, such as the affliction that the Virgin Mary is expected to suffer because of Christ’s torment and death that is described in Luke; or the varied use by Saint Paul of the sword and armor as symbols of spiritual reality. We find it prominently in Revelation with the mouth-sword and the double-edged sword being images that occur many times, each a reference to the Word of God being the Sword of God as per what we have shown previously. Probably the most well-known story is Christ healing the guard and asking Peter to put away his sword just before being captured.

Much more could be said of the sword in the Bible, as with anything else in the Bible: blades and swords are mentioned many hundreds of times, and each book, although sharing a common perspective, uses its own idiom or contextual symbolism (such as Joshua with “the edge of the sword”). From this initial foray, we can infer that the sword can be the extension of our physicality (for humans) and our will (for both God and humans). This is doubly true when considering that God Himself wears a sword as the Angel of the Lord (Num. 22:31) and mentions it to the Apostles (Matt. 10:34): “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” In this context, it makes sense that the symbolic use of the sword is in relation to the will of God and his role as judge. 

Conclusion

From the research of Johnsson, we have identified correspondences between geometric models visible in the construction of cathedrals and various artforms, as well as a Christian philosophy of sacred geometry. Through analysis, interpretation, and correlation we have been able to see how this is expressed in swords and swordsmithing. We have also seen that in the Scriptures and Christian tradition, blacksmithing is a technology akin to a garment of skin while swords are extensions of the wielder (including God) and  representative of higher realities. 

In conclusion, we can affirm that the fact that swords were instruments of war and combat does not preclude them from also being symbolic instruments and sacred artifacts constructed according to geometric principles attributed to the Divine. One does not preclude the other because, in fact, in the Middle Ages, the higher levels of reality complemented the lower levels like the great chain of being that comes from God. These facts also do not take away the attempt at symbolic fulfillment in a world where the universe of meaning was based on God and on higher realities. The men who participated in the Crusades thought they expressed the Will of God through their swords and their weapons were instruments of reality that transcended those who carried them. I would like to end by taking a quote from the scholar André Moisan’s study on Saint Bernard to help us understand these relationships between relative and less relative, lower and higher realities so that we might see things in their proper order, even in our everyday life:

All earthly reality is a symbol of a higher reality and this is one of the essential categories of medieval culture: everything is meaningful and even plurisignificant. The universe carries man, philosopher, theologian, mystic and artist towards the invisibilia by means of the visibilia. All of Nature, in its original state or shaped by the hand of man, becomes teaching. Earthly beauty is not a fascinating and deceptive screen; it brings to the blooming of the eyes and the soul through the contemplation of the Creator. In search of meaning, the medieval artist goes back to primitive beauty, the source of all beauty. Thus, a sort of unifying equivalence operates in his consciousness, between the notions of beauty, order, harmony, balance and decency.18
This article is currently being edited and will be reposted soon

Linked Premium Articles & Posts

No items found.

1.  Peter Johnsson, “Geometry in the Design of Swords,” Messer Magazin, 2012, issue 1 (February–March). The author shared this article with us privately in pdf form.

2.  Andrew Harrison, “Michael Moorcock: ‘I think Tolkien was a crypto-fascist,’New Statesman, July 24, 2015. We are by no means accepting Moorcock’s view on fantasy or on Tolkien, just to be clear.

3.  On the topic of Conan the Barbarian, see my other article on the symbolism of the movie itself: David Brodeur, “The Symbolic Structure of Movies – Conan the Barbarian (1986),” The Symbolic World, January 14, 2021.

4.  On the subject of another craft and its corresponding geometry, I suggest watching this talk on carpentry: British Archaeological Association, “The Knowledge of Carpenters from the Early Medieval Period to the Eighteenth Century...,” YouTube, January 4, 2022.

5.  Regarding blacksmiths listening to their blades, see this discussion with a blacksmith at around 9 minutes, where they discuss the “spirit” of the sword: Modern History TV, “Medieval swords: how were they made?” YouTube, April 13, 2018.

6.  We will use two main sources for Peter Johnsson’s work throughout our article and, for the sake of brevity, we won’t mention them every time: Peter Johnsson, “Righteousness is Quadrangular: A Hypothesis on Geometric Proportions of Medieval Swords,” The Spring 2012 London Park Lane Arms Fair catalogue, pp. 17–27, and the previously cited “Geometry in the Design of Swords,” Messer Magazin, 2012, issue 1 (February–March). Note that there is more evidence for Johnsson’s hypotheses such as the educational argument, orality, economics, and so on. The goal here in the article is not to give a lecture on sacred geometry, mathematics, the construction of weapons or the like; the goal is above all to use these disciplines and avenues to talk about the symbolism of the sword within the framework of the medieval universe of meaning. For anyone wishing to understand better what will be discussed, or who simply has an interest in the subject, I suggest watching this video from Dimicator on blade design: Roland Warzecha, “The Sword Code – Medieval Blade Design,” YouTube, December 17, 2017.

7.  For a very good overview of Johnsson’s thoughts on the subject, see on his personal website the article “Higher Understanding and Deeper Reckoning.”

8.  And I would add, the geometric shape must also make sense to the bearer of the sword. On the practical aspect of the sword, see this small demonstration of balance by Peter Johnsson himself: Varkis, “Peter Johnsson's practical demonstration of sword dynamics at Ashokan Sword year 2016,” YouTube, September 19, 2016. It’s important to understand also that this symbolic understanding of the sword that we (and Peter Johnsson) are proposing does not preclude its effective use. On the contrary, when looking at modern reenactors and historians of medieval martial arts like Dimicator (dimicator.com), they time and time again use geometry to determine the most appropriate technique and will even mention that geometrically sound equipment (such as swords and their proportions) makes for better fighting equipment. The symbolism is in the craft of the blade: it links both its practical terrestrial use and its supra-terrestrial patterns.

9.  Megan M. Hitchens, “Building on belief: the use of sacred geometry and number theory in the Book of Kells, f. 33r,” Parergon, Volume 13, Number 2, pp. 121–36.

10.  See Albert L. Blackwell, “St. Augustine on Number, Music, and Faith,” Modalities, December 13, 2013, as well as Cormac Jones, “The Cosmic Chiasmus,” The Symbolic World, November 9, 2022.

11.  Jonathan Pageau has spoken many times about cosmic structures in churches; a good place to start would be his video “The Garden of Eden as Cosmic Structure - St-Ephrem the Syrian,” YouTube, July 5, 2019. In regard to monasteries and structure, see this article on the floor plan of a monastery: Christine Axen, “What the St Gall Plan tells us about Medieval Monasteries.”

12.  See Santiago Huerta, “Geometry and equilibrium: the gothic theory of structural design,” The Structural Engineer, Volume 84, Issue 2, pp. 23–28.

13.  On the resemblance of sword and cross, thanks to Gareth Boyd for sharing this reference: Filopi Vadi, in his De Arti Gladiatoria Dimicandi, writes,

“Take sword in hand in manly way
’Cause she’s a cross and royal weapon
Your brave soul with her you will tune.”

Also:

“I am the cross with Jesus’ name
Ahead and back I make my sign
Many defences to find out.”

14.  Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 145, a. 2: “Whether the honest is the same as the beautiful?” and I, q. 5: “Goodness in general.”

15.  Michel Pastoureau, Heraldry: Its Origins and Meaning (Thames and Hudson, 1997), p. 10.

16.  Jonathan Pageau has made many videos on the subject of the garments of skin. Here is one short explanation of the concept: Jonathan Pageau - Clips, “Explanation of the ‘Garments of Skin’ Adam and Eve Received After the Fall | Jonathan Pageau,” YouTube, April 11, 2020.

17.  Justin Martyr, The First Apology of Justin 44, trans. Marcus Dods and George Reith, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I, p. 177.

18.  André Moisan, “Suger de Saint-Denis, Bernard de Clairvaux et la question de l’art sacré,” Le beau et le laid au Moyen Âge (Presses Universitaires de Provence, 2000), p. 398.

Please log in or register to view the comment section for this post and to add your own.
Please click here to create your community profile to view comments, add your own, and participate in discussions!
Follow us on social media: