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The Vigil for the Goetheanum Burning of 1922 by Debbie Elliott

I have not stayed up all night for New Years Eve for many years, but the New Years of 2022 I did.

I spent it at Rudolf Steiner House in London where the members were meeting for a vigil to commemorate the first Goetheanum, a building designed by Rudolf Steiner and built by anthroposophy members in the early twentieth century.

It was built in Dornach, Switzerland, the building was created entirely from wood without nails, the wood pieces slotted together. It sat on a concrete base atop a hill that overlooked cherry orchards.

This building was intended to be used by the members of the Anthroposophical Society to put on performances, attend lectures and to be used for one’s spiritual development.

The building was completed in the early 1920s but on that fateful last night of 1922 sabotage occurred. Nobody knows how the fire started but by midnight the building was ablaze, by morning it was ashes on the ground.

New Years Eve 2022, it is a hundred years to the day that this tragic event occurred. Members of the Anthroposophical Society in England gathered at Rudolf Steiner House to have a Night Watch where members can gather, watch performances and hear how the events of that fateful night unfolded.

In the welcome from the General Secretary of the Society Majatta van Boeschoten, it was explained how groups from the society across the world were remembering this night that had such a significant impact in the early days of the Anthroposophical Society.

Pieter van der Ree, who had come over from Dornach gave a wonderful, illustrated talk on the first Goetheanum, how it was built, the initial designs for it and the materials that were used, all specially prepared on Rudolf Steiner’s instructions. Pieter explained the concept behind the Goetheanum, the effects that that design should have on one when one entered and walked through it, that the building was a path of meditation.

Throughout the night we discussed the impact this must have had on Rudolf Steiner, we listened to readings from memoirs of those who had been there that night. We pondered on how this must have affected the artists and the collaborators who had helped in the building of the Goetheanum, on the members who had tried, in vain, to put out the fire.

It is still a mystery as to how the fire started but it was explained that on the fateful night, just after the fire was discovered, Rudolf Steiner had the boiler rooms and electrical rooms checked so that all was running smoothly. It was over the next few days and with further investigation that it was realised that the fire has been started on purpose, it was indeed arson.

James Dyson gave us a talk on the lecture that Rudolf Steiner gave a year later, on the New Years Eve of 1923, where Steiner compared and contrasted this event to the burning of the Temple of Ephesus in Ancient Greek times. That night of 1922 had been devastating but from those ashes rose the foundation for the second building to be made with Anthroposophical Hands, the second Goetheanum.

Our night at Rudolf Steiner House was filled with midnight celebrations, there were performances of poetry, story readings, songs sang and Eurythmy exercises as well as prayers and readings from the Book of  Revelation.

At just before 3am, the planned program was finished for the evening and many took to their sleeping bags. It was quite a delight to spend the night at Steiner House. Upstairs in the Eurythmy room there were drawings and plans of the first Goetheanum as well as a scaled down model.

Many of us, included myself, could not sleep so we spent the time keeping vigil over the models and art and keeping the energy flowing. There was a draft model of the statue of ‘The Representative of Humanity’ to gaze upon, the original model standing at over 9 metres high and was, thankfully, not yet put in the Goetheanum when the fire happened, so it was saved from being destroyed.

 Most people were awake and ready for breakfast at 7am, after which we had an inspiring talk from Majatta van Boeschoten regarding the next one hundred years of Anthroposophy, the role of its members and the Goetheanum.

We finished with the Halleluja Eurythmy exercise and a group reading of ‘The Foundation Stone Meditation’, first given by Rudolf Steiner at the founding of the Goetheanum. This was a poignant way to end the year and start a new one afresh.

“Light Divine,
Christ Sun,
Our hearts,
Our heads,
That good may become
What we
From our hearts
Would Found,
What we
From our heads direct
With Focussed will.”

Rudolf Steiner


Published by hermesrisen

writer, theologian and broadcaster, my work can be found at Colyn Boyce is co-editor for Hermes Risen and is a writer, photographer and all round good guy.

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