Architecture Program


Date of this Version



Published (as Chapter 60) in K. Williams and M. J. Ostwald (eds.), Architecture and Mathematics from Antiquity to the Future, Volume II: The 1500s to the Future (Birkhäuser, 2015), pp. 197–216. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-00143-2_13


Copyright © 2015 Springer International Publishing Switzerland. Used by permission.

First published as: Rumiko Handa, “Coelum Brittanicum: Inigo Jones and Symbolic Geometry”. Pp. 109– 126 in Nexus IV: Architecture and Mathematics, Kim Williams and Jose Francisco Rodrigues, eds. Fucecchio (Florence): Kim Williams Books, 2002.


Inigo Jones’s interpretation that Stonehenge was a Roman temple of Coelum, the god of the heavens, was published in 1655, 3 years after his death, in The most notable Antiquity of Great Britain, vulgarly called Stone-Heng, on Salisbury Plain, Restored.1 King James I demanded an interpretation in 1620. The task most reasonably fell in the realm of Surveyor of the King’s Works, which Jones had been for the preceding 5 years. According to John Webb, Jones’s assistant since 1628 and executor of Jones’s will, it was Webb who wrote the book based on Jones’s “few indigested” notes, on the recommendation of William Harvey, physician to James and to Charles I, and John Selden, antiquarian.2 The treatise included a plan of the megalith restored (Figure 1).

Since then, scientific archaeology has advanced our knowledge of the monument. Thirty stones make up the outer circle, as Jones depicted. However, no hexagon exists, but rather a U-shape of ten stones. No indication of Tuscan order is found in the crude cuts of the stones. Isotopic method has proven several construction stages between 2000 and 1600 B.C., ruling out the Romans, who reached the British isles in 43 A.D. Some present-day scholars have suspected that Webb published the theory of which Jones was not convinced, or simply borrowed the master’s name to publish his own idea. However, the idea, if not the writing, should be attributed to Jones, and reveals the architect’s sense of the past and imagination. The symbolism of Coelum are also found in other works associated with Jones.

Jones’s Stonehenge interpretation reveals an important difference between his world and ours, as Edmund Burke’s statement above suggests. Jones demonstrated the ideal through architecture, no matter if, as was in fact the case, the ideal was far from the real. Mathematics, and geometry in particular, enabled him to do so. Stone-Heng was not so much related to the original as to its ideal. It not only idealized the megalith but also the nation and monarch. It further idealized Jones’s own realm, that is, architecture, the architect, and his own being. To compare, today’s advanced technology makes almost any construction possible but at the same time allows us to be oblivious to what ought to be built. Professionals might ask what is timely, but often fail to question whether being timely is always good. Positivistic clarity in the matters of economy and efficiency makes it difficult for us to see ethical values. In order to fully appreciate Jones’s world, we need to get at the provenance of his knowledge.