The lesser known destinations in the Durham and York regions are extraordinary, especially if you are a fan of architectural mysteries. You can come upon a surprising version of the Taj Mahal while driving on a local road or encounter Solomon’s Temple in a rural setting.
York – East Gwillimbury
My all-time favorite Canadian National Historic Site is in York Region: The Sharon Temple National Historic Site. The Sharon Temple is the embodiment of the spiritual philosophy of its visionary founder, David Willson. His building captures the true meaning of sacred architecture, that of translation of spiritual values into tangible form for all those who enter to experience. Completed in 1832 and restored in 2011, it has nine historic buildings in a beautiful park like setting.
Willson came to Ontario as a Quaker and ended up founding the Children of Peace, his own religious movement with the Temple as its centrepiece. His unique concept was founded on Solomon’s four-square Temple. The design incorporated Biblical symbols: Solomon’s Temple with its three tiers, four-fold symmetry, lanterns and pinnacles from the Bible, Jacob’s Ladder, the Arc of the Covenant, four central pillars Faith, Hope, Love and Charity with paintings of his visions.
He believed in the Divine Inner Light. The temple’s large windows lend testament to his faith especially during The Illumination on the first Friday night of September every year. Candles are lit in the windows of the Temple and in the twelve lanterns on the corners of the roof conveying the inner light within the temple to the outer world. Members of the Sharon Temple Society re-enact the founder’s story as dusk descends. It is a unique evening of candlelit splendour, music, readings and history and is open to the public.
Tip: The Illumination happens on Friday, September 11th, 2020 – Gates Open at 7:30 pm
The Temple hosts festivals and annual events. There are outdoor picnic spaces. A garden and heritage buildings are additional attractions, and there are great photo ops all year round.
Tip: You can request a tour. If you are really lucky, your tour guide will be an actual descendant of the Children of Peace.
When was the last time you visited a mausoleum-museum-concert space that looks like the Taj Mahal? If you are intrigued by architectural design mysteries, the Thomas Foster Memorial is for you. The building was commissioned by the former Toronto Mayor known as “Honest Tom Foster”. His intention was to build a majestic crypt for his daughter, wife and himself. They are all buried there. He chose this theme after a visit to the world’s most famous mausoleum, the Taj Mahal.
The design interior is a harmonious blend of Byzantine Christian iconography, Egyptian, Indian, Masonic and astrological symbolism. The intertwining of what appears as diverse creeds is unique and a great accomplishment. To understand the design mysteries, you need to know that the common denominator is the universal religious meaning of the Sun symbolism.
Religious architecture of antiquity, whether Greek, Egyptian, Byzantine, Roman or otherwise all have the sun as a core design element and concept. The sun symbolizes Divinity, the Supreme Being, immortality, imperishable spirit, Christ and triumph over time. The architects for the Memorial understood this, and carefully selected colors and images, as well as their placement within the Memorial’s structure.
The Foster Memorial has eclectic religious sign posts that point to everlasting life—if you know how to read them. In the language of symbolic temple and church architecture, the placement of the entranceway floor image represents the theme or deity to which the building is dedicated. In this instance, we enter through the western door, the place of sunset and walk on a mosaic pavement representative of eternal life, the river Styx. Known also as the River of Death, it is represented by white floating lotus flowers on a deep colored dark marble background. The white lotus flower is especially revered in Egypt and India, and it is directly related to the sun, because its flowers open at sunrise and close at sunset. This was regarded as a spiritual symbol of emergence of light from darkness or death and rebirth, appropriate for Foster’s spiritual intention.
The circular dome, symbolic of the Divine Light of Heaven, is directly above the central mosaic, reiterating the theme of Earth and Heaven. Above the great arches of the dome, on the lower quadrant, you can read in gold lettering, on a background of blue mosaic, “Take this my body for it is done and I have gained a new life, glorious and eternal.”
The Foster Memorial’s interior dazzles with rich jewel-like colours and real gold contrasted by heavenly sky blue. It has majestic mosaic floors and walls of intricate terrazzo and marble mosaics, marble pillars and stained-glass windows. The imaginative features are especially highlighted during summer evening concerts as the western sunset lights up the inside.
Tip: Visit when the crystal sound meditation performance happens. The musicians play the crystal harp and quartz bowls especially designed for spiritual healing.
I’ve applied what I know about sacred architecture to both buildings for my interpretation of their mystical symbolism. When you go, visit with an open mind and heart so that the buildings can share their secrets with you.
Marcia Masino is a certified Grandmaster of Tarot and author of two classic Tarot books: Easy Tarot Guide and Best Tarot Practices. Her unique metaphysical twist on subjects from travel and food to heritage homes and agriculture makes her a popular magazine contributor. Marcia resides in the GTA.