Tour of American Copycat Culture — Stop #5
The American Pagoda: The US Capitol Building
Today, we are going to venture into one of the most symbolically important and architecturally impressive buildings in America. This building has housed the meeting chambers of the House of Representatives and the Senate for over two centuries. It has seen many attacks, but it stands today as a beacon of American democracy. However, the underlying symbolism found in every detail of this monument predates American democracy by thousands of years.
The Capitol building was described as the first building in the “modern [classical] style” to be erected in the new nation’s leading city. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and George Washington held a design competition that would award $500 and a city lot to whomever produced the winning plan.
The most promising of the submissions was by Stephen Hallet, a trained French architect. However, Hallet’s designs were overly fancy, with too much French influence, and were deemed too costly (Allen 2001, 18). After the competition closed, a late submission came in from Dr. William Thornton, a Scottish-trained physician living in the British West Indies.
Thornton took pages out of France and Italy’s architecture books. He was inspired by the east front of the Louvre, former royal palace later turned art museum, as well as the Pantheon, famed former Roman temple in Roma and later converted to a Christian church, for the center portion of the design (Library of Congress).
Later on, August Schoenborn, a German immigrant, designed the “wedding cake style” cast iron dome that stands today.
But let’s go back a little further, shall we?
In Indian temple architecture, we find the stupa. A stupa is a a mound-like or hemispherical structure containing relics that is used as a place of meditation.
Atop the mound structure, Buddhists built towers that held core teachings in each architectural element.
Stupas are found in ancient pagodas across China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and other parts of Asia, but their origins can be traced to ancient India.
Let’s recall the U.S. Capitol dome. Atop the dome stands the Statue of Freedom. Freedom is at the very center of American theology.
Now for something incredibly similar…
The Kuthodaw Pagoda contains the World’s Largest Book. Each of the 729 stupa structure houses a marble slab with inscribed words of the Tripitaka, the entire Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism.
Both the U.S. Capitol building and the Kuthodaw Pagoda are shrines to the sacred laws of the people. They both were ravaged by the British at one point in their history. They also honor a higher power.
This brings us to the Apotheosis of Washington, the painting I promised we would get to on our tour of the U.S. Capitol. To refresh your memory, apotheosis is the glorification of a subject to divine level and most commonly, the treatment of a human like a god.
Standing in the center of the rotunda, look up.
There, you see a painting of George Washington depicted alongside Minerva, Neptune, Vulcan, and Flora. Even more interesting, the painting also shows other known mortal American heroes including Benjamin Franklin, Robert Fulton, and Samuel F.B. Morse. The divine knowledge of the gods was passed down to the American Founding Fathers to lead their new nation to its destiny.
Jesus replied, “Is it not written in your Law: ‘I have said you are gods’?
And that concludes the Tour of American Copycat Culture. Please gather your belongings, watch your step, and be safe out there.
Thanks for reading!