Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lighthouses as Religious Symbols

Lighthouses have a spiritual quality about them. They seem to stand watch at crossroads, literally between the land and sea, but figuratively at the gateway between reality and imagination. I credit this metaphoric margin with the prevalence of ghost stories at lighthouses—so many that hardly a lighthouse stands without some haunted tale attached to it, sometimes outshining the light itself. But lighthouses also possess strong religious symbolism. Strength, truth, reliability, guidance, safety, warning, salvation—these attributes easily attach to lighthouses. For this reason, they are popular images in advertising, on greeting cards and stamps, on book and magazine covers, and on the many collectibles we love.

As religious symbols, they enjoy iconic status. Type the words  “lighthouse church” into an online search, and you’ll find thousands of images to confirm the fact. Churches, temples, tabernacles, missions, and more find them fitting symbols of faith. Lighthouses appear on religious tracts, hymnals, and other publications. One of my earliest memories of this was my mother’s subscription to “The Upper Room,” a faith-based magazine rife with lighthouse images. Before I was old enough to attend school, Mom  took me along to her weekly prayer meeting on Wednesday mornings. It was a social event I enjoyed, especially the food and a visit to someone’s home. There was always a small giveaway at each weekly meeting, usually something homemade by the host. One souvenir I remember vividly was a Bible bookmark that pictured a lighthouse with crashing waves, representing refuge from life’s storms, and the verse: “You are my lamp, oh Lord…:  2nd Samuel 22:29.

I was nineteen the first time I saw a real, working lighthouse—Seguin Lighthouse off the Kennebec River, Maine—but I knew by that time how symbolic lighthouses are. The image of that white beam flashing through the fog at the river’s mouth etched itself on my brain and eventually launched my writing career. I sold my first lighthouse article to Mobil Compass in 1982; the editor accepted it with a note saying: “People love lighthouses.” He added that they were humanitarian buildings and asked me to send pictures to go with the text.
When my father died in 1992, his funeral service memoriam was printed on a small folded flier with a lighthouse on the front. He had been so very proud of my writing and my first book on lighthouses.

In the 30-plus years I’ve been writing about lighthouses and photographing them, I’ve seen hundreds of emblems of faith and reassurance illustrated with lighthouses, as well as churches and faith-based businesses that use lighthouses as their logos. I think it's this spiritual nature that draws so many people to lighthouses. Below are some examples. Send me some from your hometown and your travels. Email to lightkeeper0803@gmail.com.

Below is a picture of the lighthouse church at Jukesong, South Korea, photographed on Panoramio by jandefeitser.
This one appears on Flicker by Jsome1. Location is not identified, but it's clearly a church.
And finally, here's a shot of a lighthouse and church at Sabine Pass, Texas, taken by the tour guides on the U.S. Lighthouse Society lighthouse tour in texas in 2011.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I welcome your comments, photos, stories, etc.!