Sunday, November 03, 2019

The Orientation of London's Churches

Today's #30DayMapChallenge is to create a map containing polygons. My Church Orientations map displays London churches as extruded polygons. The compass rose on the map also visualizes the orientation of all the churches in the current map view.

Since the 8th Century churches have tended to be built facing towards the east. The main focus of a church, the alter, is placed at the east end of the church, often in an apse. The major entrance to the church is often placed at the west end. In fact the word 'orientation' actually comes from the practice of constructing buildings to face the east. Building a church the other way around, with the entrance at the east and the apse at the western end, is called 'occidentation'.

nine English cathedrals - mainly oriented to the east (looking at you Liverpool Cathedral)

When early Christians prayed they would face towards the east. Hence the tradition of building churches with the alter towards the east. One theory for why Christians pray towards the east is that the beginnings of the organized church was in Europe and worshipers were praying in the direction of Jerusalem. Another theory for why churches face east is because they have been aligned to where the sun rises on each church's saint day.

My Church Orientations map uses the building footprints (the lines which define the outline of the churches) for the orientation compass rose. In other words the compass rose shows the orientation of all the churches' walls (in the current map view). In general the map reveals that churches in London are roughly orientated eastwards, with a fair share orientated between east and north-east.

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