The symbology of the ophitic columns

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The ophitic (from the Greek òphis, snake) or knotted columns represent a decorative and symbolic elements whose meaning is debated. They are strictly related to the religious architecture. For this reason it is possible to find them mainly in cathedrals or churches. 


Examples of knotted columns at the Duomo di San Giorgio, Ferrara


Functions and symbolism of the ophitic columns

The ophitic columns had at least three intrinsic functions. A first one was structural, since the column had the function of sustaining a porch, loggia or other else. The second one was aestethic and decorative. Finally, the third was the symbolic function, that nowadays scholars are trying to reconstruct. According to the vast majority of them, the knotted columns represent the link of the Holy Trinity between the Father and the Son, bounded by the node of the Holy Spirit. It is a theological vision contextualizable inside the Christian-medieval culture of maximum diffusion of this symbol.  

The semiotic-symbolic function couldn’t be dissimilar with that of the Solomon’s knot, of which it would represent a tridimensional version. 

Another hypothesis could be linked with the bronze columns of the Solomon Temple, Jachin and Boaz, located at the vestibule of the building. In this case the ophitic columns would evidence the importance of the religious constructions due to exoteric reasons or belonging to a religious order. 

The symbolic authorship of the knotted columns is also debated. However, most of the critics affirm it is a work of the Comacine Masters. 


Samuele Corrente Naso

(Translation by Daniela Campus)

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