Within church architecture, orientation is an arrangement by which the point of main interest in the interior is towards the east (Latin: oriens). The east end is where the altar is placed, often within an apse. The faade and main entrance are accordingly at the west end.
 Origen (c. 185 253) says: “The fact that […] of all the quarters of the heavens, the east is the only direction we turn to when we pour out prayer, the reasons for this, I think, are not easily discovered by anyone.” In the middle of the sanctuary was the altar , behind which was the bishop ‘s throne, flanked by the seats of the presbyters , while the laity were on the opposite side.
The Apostolic Constitutions , like the other documents that speak of the custom of praying towards the east, do not indicate on which side of the altar the bishop stood for “the sacrifice”. However, a survey of old English churches published in 2006 showed practically no relationship with the feast days of the saints to whom they are dedicated. Similarly, a survey of a total of 32 medieval churches with reliable metadata in Lower Austria and northern Germany discovered only a few aligned in accordance with the saint’s feast, with no general trend.
There was no evidence of the use of compasses; and there was a preferred alignment towards true east, with variations due to town and natural topography. A notable example of an (approximately) oriented church building that to match the contours of its location and to avoid an area that was swampy at the time of its construction bends slightly in the middle is Quimper Cathedral in Brittany . The porch over the main entrance extends over the old wall and, while not connected to the original building does make a nod towards continuity of the structure.
^ ^ ^ ^ , amonn Carragin, Carol Neuman de Vegvar , (Routledge 2016) ^ “East” in Curl, James Stephens, Encyclopaedia of Architectural Terms , 1993, Donhead Publishing, ISBN 1873394047 , 9781873394045 ^ Mishnah, Berakhot Chapter 4 Section 5 . ^ Tertuliano, Apologeticus , 16.910 ; translation ^ “quod ex omnibus coeli plagis ad solam orientis partem conversi orationem fundimus, non facile cuiquam puto ratione compertum” (; ^ ^ ^ a b ISBN 978-0-19968027-6 ), p. 117 ^ , ‘ […] […] , ( translation ) ^ ^ a b Helen Dietz, “The Eschatological Dimension of Church Architecture” ^ ISBN 978-0-19280290-3 ), p. 525 ^ D. Fairchild Ruggles , (Springer 2011 ISBN 978-1-46141108-6 ), p. 134 ^ ISBN 978-1-13395244-2 ), pp. in Geophysical Journal , Volume 198, Issue 1, p.1-7 ^ Carlo Borromeo, Instructiones fabricae et suppellectilis ecclesiasticae (Fondazione Memofonte onlus.
How are cathedrals oriented?
Within church architecture, orientation is an arrangement by which the point of main interest in the interior is towards the east (Latin: oriens). The east end is where the altar is placed, often within an apse. … Since the eighth century most churches are oriented.
Where are cathedrals usually located?
A cathedral may front onto the main square of a town, as in Florence, or it may be set in a walled close as at Canterbury. There may be a number of associated monastic or clergy buildings, a bishop’s palace and often a school to educate the choristers.
What direction does a cathedral face?
The main entrance to the church is often placed at the west end. The word ‘orientation’ actually originally came from the practice of constructing buildings to face the east. Building a church which has the entrance at the east and the apse at the western end is called ‘occidentation’.
Why are cathedrals built east to west?
1. Direction: churches are always rotated east to west with the chancel, sanctuary and altar in the east. This is because the east faces towards the holy city of Jerusalem which is where, in medieval writing, God’s presence was said to be strongest.
The building outline of Liverpool Cathedral is not very detailed in Mapbox Studio (which I used to create these building outlines). However the outline does reveal the north-south orientation of Liverpool Cathedral. This is obviously very different from the orientation of the other cathedrals shown here.
Orientation of churches
Within church architecture,The opposite arrangement, in which the church is entered from the east and the sanctuary is at the other end, is called occidentation.Since the eighth century most churches are oriented. Hence, even in the many churches where the altar end is not actually to the east, terms such as “east end”, “west door”, “north aisle” are commonly used as if the church were oriented, treating the altar end as the liturgical east.
The first Christians faced east when praying, likely an outgrowth of the ancient Jewish custom of praying in the direction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.At first, the orientation of the building in which Christians met was unimportant, but after the legalization of the religion in the fourth century, customs developed in this regard.TheThe earliest Christian churches in Rome were all built with the entrance to the east, like the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.The old Roman custom of having the altar at the west end and the entrance at the east was sometimes followed as late as the 11th century even in areas under Frankish rule, as seen in Petershausen (Constance), Bamberg Cathedral, Augsburg Cathedral, Regensburg Cathedral, and Hildesheim Cathedral (all in present-day Germany).The importance attached to orientation of churches declined after the 15th century.The medieval mendicant orders generally built their churches inside towns and had to fit them into the town plans, regardless of orientation. Later, in the Spanish and Portuguese colonial empires they made no attempt to observe orientation, as is seen in San Francisco de Asis Mission Church near Taos, New Mexico. Today in the West, orientation is little observed in building churches.
Inexactitude of orientation
Charles Borromeo stated that churches ought to be oriented exactly east, in line with the rising sun at the equinoxes, not at the solstices, but some churches seem to be oriented to sunrise on the feast day of their patron saint. Thus St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna is oriented in line with sunrise on St. Stephen’s Day, 26 December, in Julian calendar 1137, when it began to be built. However, a survey of old English churches published in 2006 showed practically no relationship with the feast days of the saints to whom they are dedicated. The results also did not conform to a theory that compass readings could have caused the variants. Taken as a body, those churches can only be said to have been oriented approximately but not exactly to the geographical east.Another survey of a smaller number of English churches examined other possible alignments also and found that, if sunset as well as sunrise is taken into account, the saint’s day hypothesis covered 43% of the cases considered, and that there was a significant correspondence also with sunrise on Easter morning of the year of foundation. The results provided no support for the compass readings hypothesis.Yet another study of English churches found that a significant proportion of churches that showed a considerable deviation from true east were constrained by neighbouring buildings in town and perhaps by site topography in rural areas.Similarly, a survey of a total of 32 medieval churches with reliable metadata in Lower Austria and northern Germany discovered only a few aligned in accordance with the saint’s feast, with no general trend. There was no evidence of the use of compasses; and there was a preferred alignment towards true east, with variations due to town and natural topography.A notable example of an (approximately) oriented church building that – to match the contours of its location and to avoid an area that was swampy at the time of its construction – bends slightly in the middle is Quimper Cathedral in Brittany.Also the modern Coventry Cathedral faces north/south, perpendicular to the old cathedral that was bombed by the Luftwaffe during the blitz. The porch over the main entrance extends over the old wall and, while not connected to the original building does make a nod towards continuity of the structure.