If we are not able to give notions which are altogether and in every respect exact and consistent with one another, do not be surprised. Enough, if we adduce probabilities as likely as any others; for we must remember that I who am the speaker, and you who are the judges, are only mortal men, and we ought to accept the tale which is probable and inquire no further.


Time, Location and Symbol

WITHIN THE LAST TEN YEARS OR SO, public attention has begun to focus on monuments to the Holocaust, oral histories of the Second World War and other such events. The timing of this revival is more than fortuitous; the period of fifty years or so that separates us from these events is at the practical limit of human living memory. People who lived these events are now reaching the twilight of life; unless their memories are recorded, they might be lost forever.

A ritual, to be repeated once every fifty years and celebrating the continuity of human history represented by The Millennium Sphere, would accentuate the natural cycle of remembrance and thereby contribute to keeping its memory alive through a regular periodic ceremony.

The remarkable thing about the 50-year cycle is that we find it prescribed as the jubilee year in Leviticus, a book of the Old Testament in the Bible, probably written in the 6th Century BC. This connection with the jubilee year is for us doubly interesting in our effort to deeply root the liturgy around The Millennium Sphere in themes meaningful to the cathedral community. First, the ancient text boldly calls out:

"Thou shalt number seven Sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven Sabbath of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years." (Lev. 25.8)

Now the text of Revelations of St. John the Divine, on which the cathedral geometry is based, makes abundant use of such numbers as seven and seven times seven, so that from a formal viewpoint, these numbers integrate the rite within the architectural framework of its setting. Furthermore, as we shall see subsequently, The Millennium Sphere geometry echoes some of these numbers as well.

The second point to be made in connection with the jubilee is, however, at once more profound and more evocative. Its resonance with the themes of Freedom, Justice, Human Dignity, Compassion and Unity are a part of the tradition of the cathedral and indeed of the city and the nation. As the Biblical text has it:

"And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possessions; and ye shall return every man unto his family. " (Lev. 25.10)

"... ye shall not oppress one another ..." (Lev. 25.14)

"... ye shall dwell in the land in safety." (Lev. 25.18)

The liturgy itself will need to be determined through a collaboration of secular and ecclesiastical authorities, but included in it should be some actions directly related to the capsule - The Millennium Sphere - and its purpose. We have already alluded to the fact that the sphere itself, through its design, had meaning beyond its function as a container; that its geometry crystallized some of the fundamental ideas that have nourished speculations over the centuries. As we shall explain later in its description, it is, through its form, structure and location, a symbol evocative of the macrocosm (the Heavens) as well as the microcosm (the Atom). But it also symbolizes the thread of Ariadne that allowed Theseus to escape from the labyrinth after slaying the Minotaur, which in turn relates to the themes of memory and freedom.

We shall propose that The Millennium Sphere, echoing in design the cathedral's Rose windows, be hung in the nave of the cathedral, at a height of 24´ to 34´ from the floor over a marker in the form of a labyrinth. Every fifty years, to celebrate the jubilee year, the sphere will be lowered onto the center of the labyrinth. It will therefore be a symbol of Heaven on Earth, the Heavenly Jerusalem of which St. John the Divine speaks in Revelations. It will also be a symbol of Atom on Earth: Hiroshima, Nagasaki and their horrors - a human rendering of the apocalypse. Besides, touching the center of the labyrinth, it will remind all that it is indeed possible to slay our own minotaurs and to be free: free of our own demons, personal and social, but also free to gain that liberation of the spirit of which all great traditions speak.

But we want The Millennium Sphere to carry out not only a message of the past to the present, through its design and ritual, or to the year 3000, through its content. We want it to also carry a message from the ever-advancing present to the ever-elusive future so that, after the millennium, there will be a record, not simply of what was enclosed in the original capsule, but of the significant events from the viewpoint of those who witnessed them, along the course of the millennium. And so, we would suggest that, at the jubilee celebration, the central medallion of the labyrinth, under which a receptacle will have been positioned, be removed to expose the receptacle. Then, a record containing text, sound and images of significant events between two jubilee celebrations, say in the form of a disk as those included in the capsule, can be placed in the receptacle. If necessary, because of technology changes, data migration of the previous records to newly-developed forms of information technologies could be made at the same time. A simple text beautifully handwritten and illustrated on long-lasting material might also be appropriate. This, after all, is how we obtained most of our knowledge of previous ages.

The details of the rite would be engraved on the back of the medallion to ensure the continuity of the ceremony. They would as well be kept onrecord at other places of record specified, such as the cathedral archives and the Cooper Union (or its succeeding institution's) archives.

As mentioned in the introduction, to keep alive the memory of The Millennium Sphere, large numbers of icons would be put in circulation, particularly at the jubilee. To this effect, we have designed "Spherinths." These are small spherical labyrinths of the size roughly of a tennis ball, that can be comfortably held in the hand. They bear a groove in the form of a labyrinth in which a small ball may roll (as a roller bearing steel ball). Both sphere and ball are enclosed in a transparent sphere that can be manipulated to make the ball travel on the surface of the inner sphere through the labyrinth from its entrance at one pole of the sphere to its center at the opposite pole of the sphere. An inscription on the sphere would commemorate The Millennium Sphere and the jubilee.

Copyright © 1999 The Cooper Union