- Cauliflower and many other flowers grow according to this pattern (if you doubt me, read this article);
- The inner structure of the pine cone is an amazing spiral;
- Spiral-patterned ocean breezes eventually strengthen and turn into destructive hurricanes and cyclones (or maybe it’s just climate change…);
- The smooth, narrowing, downward spiral of a hawk tracking its prey fits the same pattern;
- The star arrangements of certain nebulae and galaxies, including our Milky Way, are astronomically huge (pardon the pun) spirals;
- Even some beaches and natural bays were formed with this ratio (Half Moon Bay, California, for example).
Most important of all, God has built the very structure of life (that is, DNA) in the form of a double helix, which is the essence of a spiral pattern. We’ll see an architectural example of this below.
And I could go on, but the point is clear: this beautiful pattern can be found in every corner of the natural world from the microscopic (DNA) to the macroscopic (galaxies) and everywhere in between.
You might think that some amazing super-Intelligence was behind it all. Hmmm. I call it a sacred window into the creative Mind of God. Only God can create mathematically perfect and beautiful structures on such a vast or miniature scale.
So, we shouldn’t find it surprising that human beings have, from time to time, tried to imitate the pattern in artistic wonders of truly riveting beauty.
A Clever Spiral Structure
Before I show how the mollusk visited the Vatican, I’ll start with an example closer to home: the Thanksgiving Chapel in Dallas, Texas. The chapel is an interfaith structure built with public funds for a park in the center of Dallas to celebrate the American bi-centennial in 1976.
On the outside, the chapel looks like a huge ice cream cone (all white and spiraling upward – ugh, this one gets the “What were they thinking?” award!)
But the chapel’s interior is meant to be an experience of color, symmetry, and beauty: a stained glass spiral.
Here is what you see when you are standing in the center of the chapel looking up:
It’s gorgeous, I know! Mr. Chambered Nautilus would be proud that humans so cleverly imitated in art what he has by nature.
Unfortunately, the chapel is a typical American egalitarian attempt to accommodate all religious beliefs equally, but in so doing has gone beyond the pale by excluding alI religious imagery!
This, of course, is ecumenism gone wild, but you can still visit the symbol-free chapel for an authentic religious experience by way of sheer beauty.
The Vatican Mollusk
The Vatican has another take on the chambered nautilus design, and it is also breathtaking to behold. In this case, it is not a stained glass roof but a spiral staircase on a monumental scale. Actually there are two such staircases.
The mollusk first visited the Vatican in 1505 when the famous Renaissance artist, Donato Bramante, was hired to build a staircase for the Belvedere Palace (formerly the pope’s residence and a precursor to the Vatican Museums). Full disclosure: No slimy sea creature actually visited the Vatican, but I’m being dramatic here, like Bramante, as you’ll see.
Bramante’s staircase was built in a spiral shape with pillars supporting the levels because they didn’t have modern steel construction materials. Still, Bramante’s was an amazing artistic concept, wonderfully symmetrical, and way ahead of his time. It is said that he built it wide enough so that the eccentric Renaissance pope, Julius II, could ride his carriage up the staircase (horses and all) to his residence at the top!
Here is Bramante’s masterpiece which is only rarely open to the public these days.