Support Provided ByLearn More

The Abbey of Theleme

The Secret Life of Scientists and EngineersThe Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers

Receive emails about upcoming NOVA programs and related content, as well as featured reporting about current events through a science lens.

After listening to architect and rock climber Emily Whiting talk about gothic architecture, which I love, I took a look at her website and list of publications. They include the intriguing “Digital Reconstruction” and “4D Presentation through Time,” the animated movie “Portals,” which allows the visitor to wander among monuments and statues and fly inside Renaissance paintings. In “Detailed 3D Modeling of Castles,” she and collaborators digitally documented heritage sites.

Support Provided ByLearn More
The Abbey of Theleme-485px-francois_rabelais_-_portrait.jpg
Rabelais was grosser, but Emily is a far better builder.

I think Emily has a special fondness for ecclesiastical architecture, just as I do, so I wondered what she might think about the fictional “Abbey of Theleme.” The tale is part of the series of stories collectively called “Gargantua,” by Francois Rabelais, the 16th-century satirical writer of the wild, grotesque, and bawdy. And though my ruminations started with the gaudy architecture of Theleme, I was lured off topic when I read about the gate leading into it. Upon the gate was inscribed a list of the kinds of people allowed inside and, most interestingly, the kinds of people barred from entry (vile bigots, hypocrites, externally devoted apes, base snites, puffed-up, wry-necked beasts, Ostrogoths, forerunners of baboons, dissembled varlets, seeming-sancts, slipshod caffards, and fat chuffcats)!

Original funding for "The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers" was provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.