The meaning of Arches

6 August 2015

I was round at Rob and Andys the other day ( they of the incredible shed ) just chatting over a coffee and generally catching up, when Rob pointed out that I used arches a lot in my work. 

And it's true, I do. 

Here is the latest 'Alzahara reimagined' piece.  There are now 3 of these. 

So he was straight onto Google looking up the Symbolism of Arches.  

"Arches are structures with deep resonance. They embody and symbolize many things: strength and support, lightness and openness within density, thresholds into liminal space. As an archetypal symbol, the arch is fundamentally masculine. In mythology arches & doorways are understood as thresholds in time and space (chronos/physical world) through which one passes to enter another kind of time and space (kairos/spiritual world), a concept that is deeply consonant with our ministries of both worship and hospitality." 

Wow! There's a lot to get my teeth into there! 

But there was more.

"In architecture, the arch serves to lift the eye (and spirit) upwards to a higher plane/ideal. It is also a fundamentally Johannine symbol, which may well have figured into the architect Ralph Adams Cram's extensive use of arches throughout the monastery, as they recall Jesus' "I AM" sayings from the Gospel of John—the Way, the door to the sheepfold, etc." 

This was all getting a bit deep for a Sunday!

And then Rob pointed out that the arch was also a Tarot symbol ( I know absolutely nothing about Tarot).

"Arch meaning in the Tarot is always speaking to us about openings, beginning and stepping through certain perspectives to see what's on the other side.

Arch meaning also deals with initiation and ceremonies of renewal in many cultures. Walking through an archway represents the sloughing off of the old and moving into a new phase of life.

Aches are also symbolic of the expansiveness of sky. Indeed, arches were symbolic of Greco-Roman sky gods Zeus and Jupiter. 

Arches also talk to us about opportunity. I'm wild over doors, windows, arches because they symbolize a universal law, which is "There is always another way." 

I have never studied the Tarot symbols but the website we were looking at pointed out that most archways in the Tarot are fitted with pillars, which convey a sense of duality.  

It then went on to explain,  I guess in a Tarot sense, that "this feeling of duality really plays nicely with the arch meaning because often we're faced with some kind of contrast that prompts us to shift (move through the arch) our views." 

It went on, "Consider every subject as a two-sided coin: A light/positive or a dark/negative. These pillars symbolize the fact that everything in our existence holds both "yes" and "no" energy. 
The arch meaning, then, represents our point of decision. The arch is place where we have reached our epiphany and we've internally confirmed our plan of action after weighing the balance of choices available to us."

Rob found this quite fascinating and pointed out that I was 'reinventing' myself as an artist and was choosing a new path (albeit one that runs along side my original path - taken literally it could indicate that I am choosing to leave my conventional world. I am not - just not brave enough or indeed would want to. There is good stuff going on in my non-artistic life). 

More from this Tarot site:

"The arch meaning also deals with protection. From a structural perspective, archways allow motion while serving as a foundation to buildings. This is a metaphor in the Tarot. In this light, archways encourage forward motion. 
Arches are a lasting symbol that says "Move forward and your world will not crumble - only expand. Protection is here."

And finally it suggested to ask these questions:
  • If I were to boil this situation down to two choices, what would they be?
  • What kind of openings for opportunities can I see in my life?
  • There is always another way. What other options can I see?
  • Am I prepared to move into a new light? See from a new perspective?
  • Am I ready to cross over from one phase into another in my life?
Now this is all new to me, and I am not sure I particularly want to get into tarot cards (though some of the images can be quite beautiful). But does anyone out there have any knowledge on Tarot or indeed symbolism generally and contribute more to this information on arches?  It does feel as though there is scope here for more research and work. 

Meanwhile, also on the work table and to prove that I am not slacking (one more of a series which I started for the Open Studio )

And this, an up cycled frame rescued from a charity shop with some black and white photos. Crying out for a simple makeover. So I made it over!  I will take a better photo with the camera, because you cannot see the detail. 

ps. Sorry about the formatting. It's all wrong I know, but looks fine in the template and I can't fix it. Grr!


  1. I like looking into the symbolism of things, especially if they keep cropping up seemingly on their own. I always think - hmmm, there it is again. There must be something it's trying to tell me. So then I go off on a research binge to see if I can make sense of the message. It can be a fascinating journey, whether or not I believe what I find.

    I know nothing of Tarot cards either but find what it has to say about arches and doorways rather interesting - some concepts I find myself nodding at, others I had not considered. I think I may be standing at a threshold myself right now, so I am taking particular interest in this.

    As for my own contribution, I have to admit that one of the first things that popped into my head (before reading all the "deep" stuff") was a purely architectural thing bubbling up from things I learned in high school Latin class, no less. The arch came into being because it was a stronger solution to holding up the weight above it than a normal flat top to an opening. The weight is distributed differently so that each unit supports the next as they push against each other. Well, I'm not sure I've got that quite right so I will direct you to the wikipedia article on arches, rather fascinating in itself:

    At any rate, thinking about the strength of arches, my mind wandered over to the idea of bending vs breaking - the tree analogy - and thought it applied here as well. So perhaps the use of arches could also indicate (or suggest the value of) the need to give when faced with adversity or change or whatever crossroads you might find yourself at. Rigidity has its place but it does not always serve us well.

  2. Wow, you really looked into the meaning of arches! To me they are something to go thru to see what's on the other side, whatever that may be ;) Enjoying the HB video in your last post.

  3. Hello... I just stumbled upon your beautiful writing. It's been a year now that I have been immensely drawn to the humble arch and vaulted spaces. And this week I wanted to delve deeper and understand more/ what is there to learn and what can I take from this
    And wow.... if you revisit your piece and bring it into perspective of the world right now...being quarantined and all... reading your piece almost feels prophetic in terms of what future may unfold
    Where you quote... walking through an archway represents the sloughing off of old and moving into a new phase of life...
    I'm keen to learn more
    Thanks for such an inspiring piece of writing

    1. Hello - do you know, I had forgotten that I had written this. I have been on such a journey since this was written, nearly 5 years ago now. So kind of you to comment. I do need to revisit this theme. I am immensely drawn to Spanish/Moorish architechture and there is another 'Spanish Garden' piece inside me battling to get out. Thank you for dropping by and thank you for commenting.



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