Photo of Bluebell Woods in Sussex Photo of Bluebell Woods in Sussex

Churches and Nomads

It has been an interesting few days. I spent yesterday in the South Downs with Michelle Kosinski and the crew from America’s NBC network.

Whilst it’s fun and helpful to be able to do the odd high profile thing, like TV or radio, what is more exciting for the long term is the way the grass-roots network is building around this unusual subject.

Every time someone brings a new observation, technique or anecdote to my attention I note it down and make sure I keep a record of the source, the name of the person who was kind enough to send it my way. This body of knowledge is building all the time and before too long I plan to get a bit more serious about this side of things. In the meantime, here is a flavour of the wonderful diversity of knowledge and experience that I am being treated to.

On Monday, Dr. Lameen Souag wrote to me with links to some academic articles by Edmond Bernus and others about Tuareg navigation, orientation and star-lore. They’re in French, which has had me straining a little at times, but it really is great stuff. Thank you Lameen!

The day before, Leon Winnert, sent me the following email:

Hi Tristan,

I recently visited Israel doing the Holy Land tour. Basically visiting lots of churches built on sites reputed to be where significant events in JC’s life took place. I don’t dispute he was born in Bethlehem. It’s just that the Church of the Nativity, like the rest of the original churches, were built some 300 years after the event by Emperor Constantine’s wife. On sites she determined as being the spot. Anyway before I digress too far with my theories of historical inaccuracies based on hearsay and myth I will move on to the point of this message.

Now in the UK all churches face east; 090 degress give or take a couple of degrees. So I said to myself in which direction do the churches in Israel point? Do they point east, or to Bethlehem or to Jerusalem or what? With trusty compass in hand I set out to answer the question. Without exception 080 deg magnetic is the answer. Irrespective of whether the Church was very old, old or new.

By this I mean very old would be Churches based on those built by the Crusaders in the 12th and 13th centuries, in turn on the foundations of the original 4th century Byzantium buildings of the Constantine era. Old are churches associated with JC’s life events or otherwise, built say up to a couple of hundred years ago. And new are items built in the last few decades. Some replacing much older structures.

Essentially there is a considerable accord in the direction the churches face. And that is right across geographical location, the historical record and irrespective of which denomination owns them. Magnetic declination for Israel is 4 deg east. Which makes the direction the churches face 084 true. So why do they point 084 true and not due east?



Thanks Leon, wonderfully thought-provoking question! I have blogged about the orientation of churches in the UK in the past and pointed to some interesting investigation there, but if anyone has any light to shine on Leon’s questions do let me know so that I can pass it on.