Permanent Exhibitions

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The Greatest Sacred Buildings

The displays of the Greatest Sacred Buildings were first exhibited in 2003, and chosen for their unique historical value and architectural features. All of the architecture models on display are constructed either thirty or fifty times smaller in scale than the actual structures they imitate. Of special interest are manually operated mini and microscopic cameras, which viewers can use to peer into the buildings’ sophisticated interior, their paintings, sculptures, and architectural structures. Through this process people can experience the architecture’s unique visual presentation and actually put themselves into the world of these sacred buildings.

The displays were situated at the seventh floor of the museum. They includes the Theravada Buddhism’s Borobudur, Catholicism’s Chartres Cathedral, Islam’s Dome of the Rock, Buddhism’s Buddha’s Light Temple, Sikhism’s Golden Temple, Shindo’s Ise Grand Shrine, Hinduism’s Kandariya Mahadev Temple, Christianity’s Luce Chapel, Orthodox Eastern Church’s Assumption Cathedral (Trinity St. Sergius Monestary), and Judaism’s Altneuschl (Old-New Synagogue). These displays are chosen of their holiness to the religion, importance to the architectural history, and the value of themselves.

Dome of the Rock

Religion: Islam
Period of construction: 7th century C.E. 
Location: Jerusalem, Israel

Dome of the Rock was built in seventh century C.E. by Caliph Abd al-Malik of the Umayyad Empire, and is located on Mount Mariah, in the Old City of Eastern Jerusalem. It is listed along with the two most important mosques of Mecca and Medina as one of the three most celebrated mosques in the world. Building of Dome of the Rock started between 685-688 C.E., and according to temple records, was completed in 692. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all venerate this mosque as a holy site, because it is believed to hold the “sacred stone” on which Abraham prepared his beloved son Isaac as a sacrifice to God, and from which Mohammed is said to have ascended to heaven. 

Throughout its long history Dome of the Rock has undergone many building modifications, but the overall structure of the mosque has remained intact. Shaped in the form of an octagon, each side of the mosque measures twenty-one meters. Gold foil covers its glimmering dome, which is clearly seen from every part of the city, while the dome’s apex holds a crescent moon motif. Exterior walls are made of marble with mosaic patterns inlaid in Arabic style decoration, while the upper sections of the walls are adorned with script from the Koran. 

The interior of Dome of the Rock consists of a circular corridor that surrounds the central sacred stone. Four stone pillars and twelve masts support the weight of the mosques’ twenty-four arches that bear religious inscriptions of two hundred and forty meters. Since it is considered idolatry to worship God in human or animal form, furnishings are de-emphasized, containing neither statues nor portraits. On the other hand, upper sections of the interior walls are inlaid with ornamental decoration, and indicate a highly sophisticated artistic style that must have taken generations to develop.


Luce Chapel

Religion: Christianity
Period of Construction: 20th century C.E. 
Location: Taichung, Taiwan

Luce Chapel, which is situated in Tunghai University Campus, was built as a memorial to Dr. Henry W. Luce (1847-1941), who had devoted his life to preaching and higher education in China. Construction of Luce Chapel was finished in 1963, under the sponsorship of Henry R. Luce, eldest son of Henry W. Luce, while American Chinese architect I.M. Pei designed the building, in cooperation with the first chairman of Tunghai University Architecture Department, C.K Chen. 

Luce Chapel is a landmark and symbol of Tunghai University, successfully uniting religious atmosphere with architecture. The chapel was designed not only to reflect Chinese cultural traditions and reveal the spirit of Christian love, but also to create an architecture that reflected a modern outlook. The original design of the chapel was based on gothic style architecture, but was cancelled after considerations of earthquakes in Taiwan. After thoroughly researching the project, it was decided to design Luce Chapel with four curved surfaces, or parabolic hyperboloids, that were to be built separately onto the Chapel. Two curved surfaces to the rear of the chapel were built over the altar at a greater height to partially overlap the two curved surfaces at the front, providing the altar area with more interior space. Separating curved surfaces made it possible for a “skylight” to be created on the backbone of the building, making use of natural light to illuminate the interior. 

Although it was originally considered a disadvantage in the project, Tunghai University Architecture Department Chairman C.K. Chen made the decision to construct Luce Chapel facing east. This design allowed sunlight to shine through the windows and illuminate the golden cross of the altar located in the western end of the building, helping worshippers attending morning services heighten their mystical experience. 

The four curved surfaces of Luce Chapel are covered with waterproof diamond shaped glazed bricks. These glazed bricks in combination with fillisters built into the bottom of the surfaces help to emphasize the curved design of the exterior, as well as provide wonderful contrast to the checkered design of the interior.

Golden Temple

Religion: Sikhism
Date of construction: 16th to 17th century C.E.
Location: Amritsar, India

The Golden temple is located in the northern Punjab city of Amritsar, and stands erect in the middle of the Eternal Lake, or “Pool of Nectar”. The fourth guru Guru Ram Das (1543-1581) excavated the sacred lake that surrounds the temple, while the fifth guru Guru Arjan (1563-1606) completed construction of the Golden Temple’s main structure. After construction in 1604, the sacred Guru Granth Sahib (Adi Granth) was moved to the Golden Temple for community worship. Today the temple serves as an important symbol of Sikhism, sacred pilgrimage site, and important political and religious center. 

The architecture of the Golden Temple conforms closely to Sikh tradition. The main body of the Golden Temple consists of a rectangular three-story building, with the main shrine located on the first floor. Five domes in the shape of an inverted lotus blossom sit atop the building. The temple’s upper half and its interior rooms are adorned with gold foil and verses from holy scripture, while its lower half is made of pure white marble with carvings of auspicious animals. Open to the public at all times are entrances to the building on each of its four sides, expressing the idea that the temple is equally open to everyone, irrespective of race, nationality, caste, or gender. 

The sole entrance to the shrine room of the Golden Temple is an archway, while a causeway connects the temple to the patrikrama (pathway), which surrounds the sacred lake. More than sixty meters in length and constructed of marble, the causeway is usually crowded with disciples of Sikhism and tourists, particularly when the holy Guru Granth Sahib is being carried into the shrine room. 

Directly facing the entrance to the Golden Temple is the Akal Takht, a three story-fortress-style building. First built by the sixth guru Guru Hargobind (1595-1644) in 1609, the Akal Takht is now an important religious and political center for Sikhs. Apart from the room where the Guru Granth Sahib is kept at night, there are also display platforms where weapons used in the past by Sikhs are exhibited.

Ise Jingu(Ise Grand Shrine)

Religion: Shinto
Period of Construction: 2th century C.E.
Location: Mie Prefecture, Japan

Ise Grand Shrine holds the most honored position of all shrines throughout Japan, and is considered the spiritual home of Japan’s national government and society, housing the sacred mirror (Yata no Kagami) of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, one of the three items of Imperial Regalia legitimizing the emperor’s authority. Situated within a large forest region in Southern Honshu, Ise Grand Shrine annually attracts over seven million people who travel there to make a formal visit. 

The two most important buildings in Ise Grand Shrine are the inner shrine, or Naigu, which is dedicated to the Sun Goddess Kami Amaterasu, and Geku, the outer shrine, dedicated to Toyouke No Omikami, the ancient goddess of farming, food and harvest. In “Shikinen Sengu”, an over one thousand year old traditional ceremony that occurs every twenty years, the shrines are dismantled and replaced with identical structures on an adjacent plot. Naigu and Geku therefore appear to have been recently built, “untouched” by time. 

Ise Grand Shrine’s architecture is derived from the style of ancient storehouses and granaries, and is of utmost simplicity. Set within two fenced rectangular compounds, the inner and outer shrines are constructed of plain Japanese cypress wood, which is left unpainted and unvarnished. Floors stand approximately seven feet above pebble- covered ground supported by stout poles, and roofs are covered with long brown reed thatch. These roofs are topped with gold, following the ancient “divine brightness”, or shinmeii style, while distinctive X-shaped end rafters, or chigi, together with a series of cigar shaped logs, or katsuogi, lie at right angles to the roof’s ridge. The numbers of katsuogi used for shrines vary, with some shrines containing even numbers of katsuogi and others containing odd numbers. Even numbered katsuogi are said to enshrine female goddesses, while odd numbered katsuogi enshrine male gods.

Kandariya Mahadev Temple

Religion: Hinduism
Period of Construction: 10th to 11th century C.E.
Location: Khajuraho, India

Situated in the western section of the Khajuraho Temple Complex is Kandariya Mahadeva Temple. This temple is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, with its name consisting of the words, “Kandariya”, or cave, and “Mahadeva”, another name by which Shiva is known. 

Kandariya Mahadeva is the most evolved and representative architecture in India’s Chandela Dynasty period of the tenth and eleventh centuries. Structurally, the temple rests on a large base platform four meters in height and is massive in scale, with its lofty curving tower soaring thirty-five meters from the ground. Numerous interlocking steeples and vertical clusters of carved figures contribute to the temple’s indented plan, helping to create a visual rhythm that is carried up into the elevation of the building, melding at the top of the temple. The interior of Kandariya Mahadeva, on the other hand, is quite simple. The temple combines three sanctuaries, including a small shrine dedicated to Shiva, a shrine dedicated to Shiva’s wife, Parvati, and a central sanctuary that houses a large lingam statue, phallic emblem of Shiva. Surrounding this inner sanctum are connecting corridors with side and front porches. Since the temple’s balconies and entrances receive little natural light, the inner sanctuary is poorly illuminated, creating an almost cavelike atmosphere that contrasts wonderfully with the exterior of the temple. 

The sheer number of temple carvings at Kandariya Mahadeva is overwhelming. Carvings on the outside of the temple include a large assortment of male gods and female goddesses. Their expressions are serene, majestic, and lifelike, with some of the most important objects of these carvings showing their subjects in alluring postures, while wall relief depicts the ecstatic atmosphere of the gods’ heaven, with beautiful flying celestials, and amorous couples shown in erotic embraces, reflecting the creative way in which eroticism is seen in Hinduism, as one of the infinite number of ways to express love for the deity.

Chartres Cathedral

Religion: Christianity
Period of Construction: 12th to 13th century C.E.
Location: Chartres, France

The history of the Christian Church is one of sacrifice, struggle, victory, and triumph. Churches of early Christian history were small and modest, with emphasis on interior church decoration. However, the growth in power and prestige of the Church gave way to more intricate and elaborate building designs that sought to present the Kingdom of God on Earth. This is especially the case from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, with Christianity’s most important development in architecture—the Gothic Cathedral. 

Chartres Cathedral is located in the city of Chartres, northern France, on the banks of the Eure River. The Cathedral was built from 1145 to 1170 C.E., but after a devastating fire, the main structure of the current cathedral, with its characteristic two distinct bell towers of differing size and dimensions, was built from 1194 to 1260. 

As with most Gothic architecture, Chartres Cathedral contains slender stone pillars in combination with narrow ribs of pointed arches that help support the building’s cross vaults. Stone columns connected to exterior walls, known as flying buttresses, were also added to support the weight’s main thrust, helping to raise the height of the building, creating more room for sculpture, and making it possible for the emergence of larger window designs. 

The interior of Chartres Cathedral is designed in the shape of a traditional Latin cross. The middle section of the floor contains a labyrinth design, while the eastern side of the cathedral connects to Aspe Chapel, or Parte absidle, which houses relics of the saints. 

The main entrance to the West facade consists of three arched doorways, or portals. These portals contain several lifelike figure carvings of thin bodies with serene expressions, and with fluent, gracefully flowing robes. The right portal contains a carving depicting the birth of the Christ Child, the left portal depicts Christ’s Ascension into heaven, and the central portal contains a carving of the Resurrection. On the North facade of the church, the sculptures of the tympanum present the theme of, “the coronation of the Virgin”, while carvings of the South facade portals praise Jesus Christ, His disciples, martyrs, saints, and angels, together with demons, and beasts.

Buddha's Light Temple

Religion: Buddhism
Period of Construction: 9th Century C.E.
Location: Shanxi Province, China

Buddha’s Light Temple is located on Buddha’s Light Mountain, twenty-five kilometers northeast of Wu Tai county, Shan Xi province. The temple was founded in the reign of the Norhern Wei Xiao Wen Emperor (471~499C.E.) and faces west, with an open and clear view of the area, while mountains surround the three remaining sides of the building. The entire temple complex is divided into three courtyards, and their foundations are all built on the mountainside in terraced field style. In all, there are more than one hundred and twenty buildings within the temple complex. However, Buddha’s Light Temple is the most important of these, because it is one of the largest wood architectural structures of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 C.E.) 

The main hall, or “Great Eastern Hall” of Buddha’s Light Temple is situated on the highest courtyard, majestic in appearance. This hall is the most important building of the complex and oldest surviving representative model of large-scale Tang Dynasty wood construction. The front and back of the building each measure thirty-four meters, while the sides are approximately eighteen meters. Important structural features of the main hall include its pillared wooden framework and brackets that support the roof’s crossbeam; complex architectural elements that have their own independent function, yet are tightly intergraded into the building’s overall architecture. 

Displayed along the main hall’s walls are murals of five hundred arhats together with two hundred and ninety-six arhat statues, which both date back to the Ming Dynasty (1644-1911 C.E.). Thirty-five gigantic clay Buddhist statues of the Tang Dynasty pained in vibrant colors dominate the hall’s central area. Thirty-three of these statues are of important Buddhist figures, including Sakyamuni, Maitreya, Amitabha, Samantabhadra, Manjusri, Attendant Bodhisattva (who appears to the side of Buddha statues), and Jin-Gang-Dhyana. The remaining two statues are of the temple abbot and sponsor who supported construction of the temple. Combining architecture, statues, calligraphy, and painting, the main hall unifies Tang dynasty art and demonstrates the value and importance of Buddha’s Light Temple.


Religion: Buddhism
Period of Construction: 9th Century C.E.
Location: Java, Indonesia

Located in Indonesia’s Java region is the massive Buddhist monument Borobudur, which literally means, “stupa on the hill”. Although construction dates back to 9th century C.E., the monument was buried deeply under volcanic ash and not discovered until 1814 by English colonist Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. 

In Borobudur’s excavation, archeologists discovered color stains of blue, red, green, black, as well as bits of gold foil, and concluded that the monument that we see today—a dark gray mass of stone, lacking in color—was probably coated with white plaster and painted with bright colors, serving perhaps as a “beacon” of Buddhism. 

Structurally, Borobudur is a stone monument built in the shape of a steeped pyramid. It contains ten levels that are divided into three sections: lower section, or hidden foot, main body, or rectangular terrace, and top level, known as circular terrace. The sides of Borobudur measure one hundred and twenty-three meters, and contain sets of central staircases that reach the top of the forty-two meter high monument. The lower and main body levels of the monument are constructed in the shape of squares while the upper levels consist of a series of concentric terraces. These levels decrease in size as they rise to a central stupa, peak of the monument. Winding corridors surround the main body’s five square levels, and atop the balustrades, each set into its own niche, are Buddha statues, while the upper terraces on the top three levels contain seventy-two hollow stupas, each housing an image of a seated Buddha gazing outward. Since the upper terraces are circular in design, they help give the appearance of a pyramid when viewed from the side, while an overhead view of the monument presents an image of a three dimensional mandala. Therefore, Borobudur’s architecture incorporates three of the most important symbols found in Indian design: the holy mountain or pyramid, the mandala, and the stupa.

Assumption Cathedral (Trinity St. Sergius Monestary)

Religion: Christianity
Period of Construction: 15th to 18th century C.E.
Location: Zagorsk, Russia

Trinity St. Sergius Monastery is located in the small town of Sergiev Posad, on the outskirts of Moscow. This monastery was built between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries of the Common Era, and is of great historical importance to religious architecture in Russia, because it serves as a memorial for Saint Sergius of Radonez (1322-1392 C.E), founder of the monastery in 1337, and leader in Russia’s fight against Mongol dominance. In the aftermath of Russia’s victory over the Mongols, Saint Sergius was given the title “Saint Russia”, while Trinity Monastery became the spiritual symbol of protection for the country. 

Trinity Monastery began to flourish in the fifteenth century, not only as a community church, but also as a military fortress. In the mid sixteenth century, Czar Ivan the IV celebrated the destruction of Mongolian power, unification of Russia, and expansion of Russian territory by honoring eight Russian saints with the reconstruction of eight main churches, including Trinity Monastery. Four lofty walls and twelve military towers were built to surround the original monastery, while Assumption Cathedral, which is located within the monastery complex, was constructed in imitation of Kremlin Assumption Church. 

Assumption Cathedral is the largest and most remarkably striking church in Trinity Monastery. Construction of the cathedral started in 1559, and took twenty-seven years to complete. Four blue domes and one gold dome, all of onion shape, sit atop the Cathedral’s pure white limestone walls, combining to create a uniquely resplendent church architecture. 

Donations from successive Czars helped Assumption Cathedral acquired the grandness in construction that it has today. With exception to its rich collection of books and historical materials, this cathedral holds two of many famous religious artifacts: one of them is a door decorated with the work of the famous icon painter Andrei Rublev, the other being the Mitre Czar Elizabeth Petrovena gave to the Patriarch in 1744. Therefore, due to the importance of Assumption Cathedral, in 1993, in its seventeenth meeting, UNESCO drafted a resolution naming Trinity St. Sergius Monastery as World Heritage Site number 657.

Altneuschl (Old-New Synagogue)

Religion: Judaism
Period of Construction: 13th century C.E.
Location: Prague, Czech Republic

The synagogue originated from the period of the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C.E. with the Babylonian Empire’s capture of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple of Solomon. Jews exiled to Babylon created meeting places for the Sabbath where they could participate in scripture reading, recitation of psalms, and almsgiving. The Roman Empire’s destruction of the second temple of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. marked the beginning of a “Second Diaspora”, lasting for almost two thousand years. Over this period, traditional ceremonies of the temple began to be practiced in the synagogue, elevating the buildings’ importance. Thus the synagogue became a symbol of Judaism, reminding the Jewish community of its history, tradition, and culture. 

Located in the old Jewish quarter of Prague is Old-New Synagogue, or Altneuschl, oldest surviving synagogue in Europe. The original name of the building was “New Synagogue”. However, it was not until the sixteenth century when other synagogues were established in Prague, that the building became known as “Old-New Synagogue”. Opinions vary concerning the age of the building, but the general consensus is that Old-New Synagogue was built between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries. Richly adorned with stonework, this synagogue displays several aspects of the architecture of the middle ages, containing stained glass windows, a gable, octagonal columns with leaf shaped decoration, vaults, and gothic style pendant lamps.

A small hall and an added southern vestibule for the use of men constitute the Old-New Synagogue’s main hall, while rooms to the northern and western sides of the building are reserved for women. Furnishings in Old-New Synagogue are modest and without statues or portraits. The center of the synagogue holds a wooden ark that symbolizes the Ark the Covenant; it faces Jerusalem and contains the Torah. Hung over the altar is the Star of David, symbol of Judaism, while encircling the ark are a series of small offices, classrooms, and meeting rooms. 

Old-New Synagogue is a testament to the desire of Jews to hold on to their heritage. Despite the many catastrophes that this synagogue has withstood, it still remains active, holding services and housing in conjunction with Prague Jewish Museum one of the finest collections of Jewish art in the world.