Journal of Skyscape Archaeology, Vol 3, No 1 (2017)

The Dual Alignments of the Solstitial Churches in North Wales

Bernadette Brady

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.

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DOI: 10.1558/jsa.30562

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