Orientation As Christians from an early period turned their faces eastward when praying, so Christian churches, especially in the Western countries, for the most part were placed east and west, in order that the worshippers, as they looked towards the altar, might also look towards the east. The Council of Milan gave approval to this custom, and pope Virgilius even ordered the priests to celebrate towards the east. The custom seems at first thought a very foolish one, for God is everywhere present. Yet the east is, as it were, his proper dwelling-place, and that quarter where heaven seems to rise. Then, too, the window in the ark is believed to have faced the east. In the primitive Church prayer was made to the east, according to Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Origen, Augustine and Basil: (1) in allusion to Ps 132:7; Zec 14:4, "His feet shall stand in the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east;" (2) as the day-spring (Lu 1:78); (3) as the place of light; and (4) of Paradise (Genesis 52:8); and (5) of in the crucifixion and ascension, Pentecost, and second advent. Not only did churches, therefore, face the east, but the dead were laid with their faces to the east. The altar represents the Holy of Holies of the Temple; at it the death of Christ is commemorated; and from it the sacred food is administered to the faithful. Leo I (A.D. 443) condemned the custom of the people at Rome who used to stand on the upper steps in the court of St. Peter's and bow to the rising sun; partly out of ignorance, and partly from a lingering paganism. In later times the custom continued of turning eastward before entering St. Peter's, but with the intent of praying to God. To avoid, however, any suspicion of superstition, in the time of Boniface VII a mosaic of the ship which is one of the symbols of the early Church for Christ, SEE INSCRIPTIONS, was erected, towards which devotions were to be made. Urban VIII placed it over the outer great door. In some early churches (as those of the Holy Cross at Jerusalem, erected by Constantine, and Tyre, built by Paulinus at the beginning of the 4th century) — three great gates faced the east, the central being the loftiest, like a queen between her attendants. The arrangement adopted was that of the Jewish Temple. Modern investigation has determined that few churches stand exactly east and west, the great majority inclining a little either to the north or to the south. Thus, of three ancient churches in Edinburgh, it was ascertained that one (St. Margaret's Chapel in the Castle) pointed E.S.E.; another (St. Giles's Cathedral), E. by S.1/2S.; a third (Trinity College Church, now destroyed), E.1/2S. The cause of this variation has not been satisfactorily explained. Some have supposed that the church was turned not to the true east, but to the point at which the sun rose on the morning of the feast of the patron saint. But, unfortunately for this theory, neighboring Churches, dedicated in honor of the same saint, have different orientations. Thus, All-Saints' at West Beckham, in Norfolk, points due east; while All-Saints' at Thwaite, also in Norfolk, is 80 to the north of east. There are instances, too, in which different parts of the same church have different orientations; that is to say, the chancel and the nave have not been built in exactly the same line. This is the case in York Minister and in Lichfield Cathedral. Another theory is that orientation "mystically represents the bowing of our Savior's head in death, which Catholic tradition asserts to have been to the right [or north] side." But his theory is gainsaid by the fact that the orientation is as often to the south as to the north. Until some better explanation is offered, it may perhaps be safe to hold that orientation has had no graver origin than carelessness, ignorance, or indifference. In several early Roman churches, and in the western apses of Germany, the altars face westward, but the celebrant fronts the congregation.

Topical Outlines Nave's Bible Topics International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Online King James Bible King James Dictionary

Verse reference tagging and popups powered by VerseClick™.