The Orientation of Gothic-Mudéjar Churches in Southern Spain

The Rotation of the Qibla and Sunrise on the Canonical Equinox


  • José M. Abril University of Seville



Gothic-Mudéjar churches, church orientation, qibla rotation, Canonical Equinox, southern Spain


Most of the earliest new churches built in Andalusia (southern Spain) following the thirteenth-century Christian Reconquista occupied the sites of former mosques. In some cases, these churches incorporated pre-existing architectonic elements – particularly minarets, which were converted into bell towers – or took some inspiration from Islamic architecture, creating a
combination of Gothic style and elements from Muslim architecture known as Gothic-Mudéjar. This paper analyses the orientation pattern of a group of 68 Gothic-Mudéjar churches built in the cities of re-conquered Andalusia up to the early fifteenth century, and the normalised frequency distribution of azimuths is compared with published data for the qibla (the direction toward which Muslims turn to pray) observed at a group of 82 Andalusian mosques. Results confirm that a large number of churches were oriented via a 90° anticlockwise rotation from orientation to the qibla after placing the apse in the former eastern wall of the mosque. It is further argued, based on the histogram and a distinctive peak around 84°, that the architects aligned these churches to sunrise over the local horizon for 25th March according to the Julian calendar, the date of the canonical equinox. This practice reflects Church teaching and a medieval foundation-stone rite involving a dawn vigil, and the built structures reflect the limited technical capacity of the church builders. The method of orientation would also have created a precedent for the alignment of some later churches in southern Spain dedicated to the Virgin of the Assumption to sunrise on 15th August, the Feast of the Assumption.


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Author Biography

José M. Abril, University of Seville

Department of Applied Physics I Professor


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How to Cite

Abril, J. M. . (2021). The Orientation of Gothic-Mudéjar Churches in Southern Spain: The Rotation of the Qibla and Sunrise on the Canonical Equinox. Journal of Skyscape Archaeology, 6(2), 182–206.