|Yale Center for British Art|
Jerusalem, Copy E, Plate 54
We can postulate in our own times the consequences if the whole structure which holds together the functioning of our civilization were destroyed by a cataclysmic event. Blake postulated spiritual and mental conditions which would result if what holds together the mind, the body or the society were to lose their integrity. To Blake it is the Divine Family which as an expression of God's mercy prevents Albion from slipping away. We met the four and twenty elders in considering the images of the Last Judgment; we meet them now as those in whom the Divine Family appeared.
We learn that Blake associated the four and twenty elders with the twenty-four cathedral cities of Britain. Blake was critical of the established religion of his day but used the cathedral cities as means or redemption.
A church like a city is not a physical structure or an organization but is the people who comprise it. Blake could condemn the organization while he recognized the value of the human components whose lives were expressed collectively through the organization. The cathedral cities were a valid symbol for the spiritual protection provided by God's mercy because individuals sought through the church to listen to God's word.
Jerusalem, Plate 36  "O! how the torments of Eternal Death, waited on Man: And the loud-rending bars of the Creation ready to burst: That the wide world might fly from its hinges, & the immortal mansion Of Man, for ever be possess'd by monsters of the deeps: And Man himself become a Fiend, wrap'd in an endless curse, Consuming and consum'd for-ever in flames of Moral Justice. For had the Body of Albion fall'n down, and from its dreadful ruins Let loose the enormous Spectre on the darkness of the deep, At enmity with the Merciful & fill'd with devouring fire, A nether-world must have recievd the foul enormous spirit, Under pretence of Moral Virtue, fill'd with Revenge and Law. There to eternity chain'd down, and issuing in red flames And curses, with his mighty arms brandish'd against the heavens Breathing cruelty blood & vengeance, gnashing his teeth with pain Torn with black storms, & ceaseless torrents of his own consuming fire: Within his breast his mighty Sons chaind down & fill'd with cursings: And his dark Eon, that once fair crystal form divinely clear: Within his ribs producing serpents whose souls are flames of fire. But, glory to the Merciful-One, for he is of tender mercies! And the Divine Family wept over him as One Man. And these the Twenty-four in whom the Divine Family Appear'd; and they were One in Him. A Human Vision! Human Divine, Jesus the Saviour, blessed for ever and ever." Jerusalem, Plate 71, (E 225) "And these the Names of Albions Twelve Sons, & of his Twelve Daughters With their Districts. Hand dwelt in Selsey & had Sussex & Surrey And Kent & Middlesex: all their Rivers & their Hills, of flocks & herds: Their Villages Towns Cities Sea-Ports Temples sublime Cathedrals; All were his Friends & their Sons & Daughters intermarry in Beulah For all are Men in Eternity. Rivers Mountains Cities Villages, All are Human & when you enter into their Bosoms you walk In Heavens & Earths; as in your own Bosom you bear your Heaven And Earth, & all you behold, tho it appears Without it is Within In your Imagination of which this World of Mortality is but a Shadow." Milton, Plate 42 , (E 143) "And I beheld the Twenty-four Cities of Albion Arise upon their Thrones to Judge the Nations of the Earth And the Immortal Four in whom the Twenty-four appear Four-fold Arose around Albions body: Jesus wept & walked forth From Felphams Vale clothed in Clouds of blood, to enter into Albions Bosom, the bosom of death & the Four surrounded him In the Column of Fire in Felphams Vale; then to their mouths the Four Applied their Four Trumpets & them sounded to the Four winds"S Foster Damon's book A Blake Dictionary has a long section on the Cathedral Cities including a map with their locations. On Page 72 he writes:
"Despite Blake's continuous attacks on established churches, he recognized from the beginning that 'the Gothic Artists who Built the Cathedrals' were true Christians; and that, in spite of all errors and corruptions, the central idea of the churches was their fundamental and eternal reality; and that this reality, in crucial times, was bound to manifest."