Top of page

this flier shows three doors in three panels with text about the doors above for the Annex Building
The Bronze Doors of the Library of Congress (back side of brochure) GPO O-604980

Our bronze doors

Share this post:

In an earlier post I mentioned that the bronze doors greeting our patrons depicted the history of the written word through the sculpted figures. Perhaps, like me, you wondered how those figures actually represented the history of the written word and whether they were mythological or real.

While researching this building we ran across an older brochure (pre 1975) titled “The Bronze Doors of the Library of Congress.” This brochure and the Encyclopaedia Britannica provide some insight on the figures portrayed and their significance to the written word:

Thoth, in Egyptian mythology, was held to be the inventor of writing, the creator of languages, interpreter and adviser of the gods.

Ts’ang Chieh (aka Cangjie) is the Chinese patron saint of pictographic letters.

figures of Nabu on the left facing right with wings and holding a scroll; and Tahmurath on the right facing left holding bolts of lightning coming out of the mouth of a alligator like creature
The figures of Nabu and Tahmurath on the doors of the John Adams Building (Carol M. Highsmith Collection/Library of Congress)

Nabu, Sumero-Akkadian god of the stylus. Nabu was the patron of the art of writing and his symbols were the clay tablet and the stylus.

Tahmurath, a Persian deity who was taught the art of writing in 30 different languages by the defeated demons in return for sparing their lives.

Hermes facing right is on the left and had his caduceus and helmet with wings on his feet; Itzamna facing left is on the right with an elaborate headdress and a feathered scepter in his raised left hand
The figures of Hermes and Itzamna on the doors of the John Adams Building (Carol M. Highsmith Collection/Library of Congress)

Hermes, Greek god with many attributes, among which was the invention of the alphabet and numbers.

Itzamna, chief god of the Mayas, said to have been a hero who gave humankind writing and the calendar and was patron deity of medicine.

Brahma, supreme god of the East Indian trinity, said to have brought the knowledge of letters to the human race.

Odin facing right is on the left with his horned helmet and spear, Quetzalcoatl facing left is on the right wearing an elaborate headdress
The figures of Odin and Quetzalcoatl on the doors of the John Adams Building (Carol M. Highsmith Collection/Library of Congress)

Odin, in Norse mythology the originator of the science of written communication. Odin was the great magician among the gods, and also the god of poets.

Quetzalcoatl, serpent god said to have been the founder of Aztec culture. In Aztec times he was revered as the patron of priests, the inventor of the calendar and of books, and the protector of goldsmiths and other craftsmen.

Cadmus, honored in Greek legend as the one who brought the alphabet from Phoenicia to Greece.

Ogma, in the mythology of prehistoric Eire the inventor of letters and designer of the alphabet. Ogham script, an Irish writing system from 4th century CE, seems to have been named for him.

Ogma facing left is on the left holding a club in his raised right hand, Sequoyah facing right is holding a peace pip in his left arm and a tablet in his right
The figures of Ogma and Sequoyah on the doors of the John Adams Building (Carol M. Highsmith Collection/Library of Congress)

Sequoyah, famous American Indian who invented an alphabet for the Cherokee language and taught his people to read. First experimenting with pictographs and then symbols adapted from English, Greek and Hebrew letters to represent the syllables of the spoken Cherokee language.

Also noted in the portion of the brochure displayed above are the figures on our south doors, the male figure representing physical labor and the female symbolizing intellectual labor. To research these figures further, follow the links to other materials in our catalogs.

Special thanks to Ellen Terrell, Business Reference Specialist, for her assistance with this material and to Jennifer Harbster (my co-blogger) for discovering the brochure!

Comments (15)

  1. Remarkable! So much rich history in these lovely doors…

  2. Very interesting!

    This is very helpful since I have been writing to my children about my personal observations from my visits to the three buildings of the Library of Congress.

    Thank you very much

  3. hi
    this is somthing very cool m an indian n i was very glad to see these bronze doors sitting here in ma pc keep up……
    thank you

  4. hello
    im very glad to know about such history of bronze doors its really cool.
    Thank You

  5. Thank you so much for doing the research and informing us all.

  6. As soon as I found this site I went on reddit to share some of the love with them.

  7. Might I learn of who carved the doors at the Library of Congress? And where is this referenced? Looking up some family history. Thank you

    • Hi Kristen,
      Sculptor Lee Lawrie was commissioned to design the bronze reliefs on the doors; the doors were then fabricated by the Flour City Ornamental Iron Company of Minneapolis. To read more about the bronze doors, see the feature: “A Handsome Box”: The Adam Building.

  8. All the Historical figures on these bronze doors are the same energy from generation to generation

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.