The Dual Alignments of the Solstitial Churches in North Wales

Authors

  • Bernadette Brady University of Wales Trinity Saint David

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.1558/jsa.30562

Keywords:

churches, North Wales, pre-Christian orientations, solar alignments, solstice

Abstract

In the north of Wales, there are 105 churches that have stonework dated to the thirteenth century or earlier. Of these, only twelve are oriented to face the summer solstice sunrise. Additionally, all of these solstitial churches are located in the northern-most counties of Wales, near or around the valleys which flow beside the Snowdonia Mountains or to the east of the mountains. The twelve solstitial churches take their landscape into account and, thus, vary considerably in their azimuths in order to align to the actual sunrise of the summer solstice. In such terrain, one would expect a wide and diverse collection of western declinations, yet these twelve churches fall into three distinct regional bands of western declination. The twelve solstice churches have western declinations that align them either with the winter solstice sunset (this is the natural alignment) or with the period of early February or early November. With all the churches fitting into these declination patterns, this paper presents an argument for the origin of this apparent intentionality based on the history of the region. The Isle of Anglesey, in the Roman period, was one of Europe’s major Druidic centres of learning and their naked- eye astronomy skills are evident in artefacts such as the Coligny calendar. Based on this background, this paper suggests that the original fifth or sixth century churches, which were later rebuilt in stone, appropriated pre-existing sacred sites. Thus, today, these Welsh historical churches appear to have preserved, in their medieval walls, older non-Christian orientations.

Author Biography

Bernadette Brady, University of Wales Trinity Saint David

Bernadette Brady has a PhD in Anthropology (2012) and MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology (2005). She is currently a tutor in the Sophia Centre for the Study of Cosmology in Culture (University of Wales Trinity Saint David, UK). Her archaeoastronomical work is focused in the cultural influence of stars, the role of star phases and the cultural history of the constellations. Her publications include her work on the linking of the Egyptian Ascension mythologyof the Pyramid Texts with the phases of the stars (CRE XII proceedings, Oxbow 2012), the arguing for the use of star lines in the megalithic period (SEAC 2011 proceedings, BAR forthcoming), the cultural implications of the persistence of the shape of constellations (Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 7(1) 2013) and the ethnographical/astrological work on the Star of Bethlehem (SEAC 2012 proceedings, Slovene Anthropological Society 2013).

References

Ali, J. R. and P. Cunich, 2001. “The Orientation of Churches: Some New Evidence”. Antiquaries Journal 81: 155–193. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003581500072188

Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, trans. B. Colgrave, 1994 [1969]. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Belmonte, J. A., 2015. “Solar Alignments: Identification and Analysis”. In The Handbook of Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy, edited by C. L. N. Ruggles, 1: 484–492. New York: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-6141-8_36

Benson, H., 1956. “Church Orientations and Patronal Festivals”. Antiquaries Journal 36: 205–213. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003581500061102

Bowen, E. G., 1954. The Settlements of the Celtic Saints in Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.

Brady, B., 2015. “Star-Paths, Stones and Horizon Astronomy”. In SEAC 2011: Stars and Stones: Vogages in Archaeoastronomy and Cultural Astronomy, edited by F. Pimenta, N. Ribeiro, F. Silva, N. Campion, A. Joaquinito and L. Tirapicos. British Archaeological Reports, International Series 2720: 58–63. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Briggs, C. S., 1979. “Ysbyty Cynfyn Churchyard Wall”. Archaeologia Cambrensis, 128: 138–146.

Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust, 2017a. “Church of St Cwyfan , Llangwyfan” [online]. Accessed March 2017, http://www.cpat.demon.co.uk/projects/longer/churches/denbigh/16837.htm

Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust, 2017b. “Church of St Trillo , Llandrillo yn Edeyrnion” [online]. Accessed March 2017, http://www.cpat.org.uk/projects/longer/churches/conwy/16834.htm

Coflein, 2017. “St Deiniol’s Cathedral, Bangor” [online]. Accessed March 2017, http://www.coflein.gov.uk/en/site/43727/details/st-deiniols-cathedral-bangorbangor-cathedral

Csordas, T., 1999. “The Body’s Career in Anthropology”. In Anthropological Theory Today, edited by H. L. Moore, 172–205. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Dalton, P., C. Insley and L. J. Wilkinson, 2011. Cathedrals, Communities and Conflict in the Anglo-Norman World. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press.

Durandus, Rationale Divinorum Officiorum, Book 1 trans. J. M. Neale and B. Webb, 1843, as The Symbolism of Churches and Church Ornaments: A Translation of the First book of the Rationale Divinorum Officiorum written by William Durandus. Leeds: T. W. Green.

Friar, S., 1996. A Companion to the English Parish Church. Stroud, UK: Alan Sutton, 1996.

Henken, E. R., 2003. “Welsh Hagiography and the Nationalist Impulse”. In Celtic Hagiography and Saints’ Cults, edited by J. Cartwright, 26–44. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.

Hinton, I., 2012. The Alignment and Location of Medieval Rural Churches. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Hoare, P. G. and C. S. Sweet, 2000. “The Orientation of Early Medieval Churches in England”. Journal of Historical Geography 26 (2): 162–173. https://doi.org/10.1006/jhge.2000.0210

Hutton, R., 1991. The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy. Oxford: Blackwell.

Iwaniszewski, S., 2015. “Concepts of Space, Time, and the Cosmos”. In The Handbook of Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy, edited by C. L. N. Ruggles, 1: 3–14. New York: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-6141-8_2

Jankulak, K., 2003. “Swine, Saints and Celtic Hagiography”. In Celtic Hagiography and Saints’ Cults, edited by J. Cartwright, 271–284. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.

Jones, G. R. J., 1953. “Some Medieval Rural Settlements in North Wales”. Transactions and Papers (Institute of British Geographers) 19: 51–72. https://doi.org/10.2307/621227

Jones, G., 2007. Saints in the Landscape. Stroud, UK: Tempus.

Kosowsky, M., 2013. HeyWhatsThat [online]. Accessed August 2014, http://www.heywhatsthat.com

Lewis, D., 1974. “Voyaging Stars: Aspects of Polynesian and Micronesian Astronomy”. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series A: Mathematical and Physical Sciences 276 (1257): 133–148. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsta.1974.0015

McCluskey, S. C., 2015. “Orientation of Christian Churches”. In The Handbook of Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy, edited by C. L. N. Ruggles, 3: 1703–1710. New York: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-6141-8_173

McCormick, T., 2010. The Cathedrals, Abbeys & Priories of Wales. Little Logaston, UK: Logaston Press.

Morris, J., 1957. “Celtic Saints: A Note”. Past & Present 11: 2–16. https://doi.org/10.1093/past/11.1.2

Morris, R., 1989. Churches in the Landscape London: Dent.

National Centers for Environmental Information. 2014. Magnetic Field Calculators [online] Accessed August 2014, http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/geomag-web

Olmsted, G., 1992. The Gaulish Calendar: A Reconstruction from the Bronze Fragments from Coligny, with an Analysis of Its Function as a Highly Accurate Lunar-solar Predictor, as Well as an Explanation of Its Terminology and Development. Bonn: Habelt.

Padel, O., 2002. “Local Saints and Place-names in Cornwall”. In Local Saints and Local Churches in the Early Medieval West, edited by A. Thacker and R. Sharpe, 303–360. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Potter, J., 2013. Searching for Early Welsh Churches: A Study in Ecclesiastical Geology. British Archaeological Reports, British Series 578. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Powell, S., 2009. John Mirk’s Festial: Edited from British Library MS Cotton Claudius A.II. Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Sassin Allen, A., 2015. “Church Orientation in the Landscape: A Perspective from Medieval Wales”. Archaeological Journal 173 (1): 154–187. https://doi.org/10.1080/00665983.2016.1110781

Schaefer, B., 1990. “Refraction near the Horizon”. Astronomical Society of the Pacific 102: 796–805. https://doi.org/10.1086/132705

Zavaroni, A., 2007. On the Structure and Terminology of the Gaulish Calendar. British Archaeological Reports, International Series, 1609. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Published

2017-08-09

How to Cite

Brady, B. (2017). The Dual Alignments of the Solstitial Churches in North Wales. Journal of Skyscape Archaeology, 3(1), 5-28. https://doi.org/10.1558/jsa.30562

Issue

Section

Research Articles