Archaeologist: American churches astronomically aligned

One of the more important aspects of my work is to bring to light the ancient religious practice of aligning sacred sites with astronomical events, such as the daily, weekly, monthly and annual movements and phases of the sun, moon and other celestial bodies. This practice dates back thousands of years in countless archaeological sites globally, across a vast diversity of cultures from numerous eras. Astronomically aligned sacred sites can be found in so-called Pagan sites, as well as those of the Abrahamic religions, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The combination of the astronomical alignments with sacred sites is expressed in what is called “astrotheology,” which is most apparent in the myths of the various cultures who built these monuments.

In the following news item appear yet more examples of this age-old tradition, as found within Christianity in particular. The fact that winter-solstice alignments, for instance, are discovered at Christian sites reflects that their architects and builders were well aware of the significance of that date, originally the “birth” of the year’s new sun but observed for over 1,700 years as “Christmas” or the purported birth of Jesus Christ. It is clear that in marking this date and celebrating this holiday, Christians were merely latching onto a very ancient, astrotheological practice shared by numerous cultures worldwide.

In addition, in some instances the summer-solstice rising sun illuminates a statue or other image or representation of John the Baptist, which is fitting since John’s “birthday” has traditionally been placed at that time, a reflection of his role as the summer-to-winter sun, at which point he is replaced by Christ as the winter-to-summer sun. This transition is reflected in the enigmatic biblical scripture at John 3:30:

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”

This correlation was obviously not lost on those who placed John the Baptist’s birthday on June 24th, the traditional summer-solstice celebration in several cultures, as well as the winter solstice in the southern hemisphere.

Much more about the subject of ancient astrotheology and its relationship to “modern” religions such as Christianity, as well as Judaism and Islam, can be found in my books and articles. The fact is that one simply cannot understand the origins of Christianity or much other religious thought without knowing the archaeoastronomy and astrotheology of the ancients. All efforts to develop a “biography” of Jesus Christ or an early Church history will fail without factoring in this vast and profound context of ancient astrotheology, which permeated the area in which the Christian effort took place, expressed abundantly in the religions of ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt and India, to name a few examples. Unfortunately, few biblical scholars are well versed in these important subjects and are therefore missing a huge piece of the puzzle.

Illuminating research: CSU Monterey Bay archaeologist studies rare light effects at missions

Ruben G. Mendoza is on a quest for light.

The 54-year old archaeologist and professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences at CSU Monterey Bay is seeking the rarest of lights: Early morning rays of the solstice sun, channeled by a centuries-old alchemy of architecture and astronomy, geometry and awe, into brilliant tabernacle illuminations at California’s missions.

It’s a complex blend of solar geometry and Franciscan cosmology, says Mendoza, in which churches, windows and altars were laid out in relation to the sun’s position on a particular day of the year.

Illuminations occur on solstice, equinox or feast day mornings, says Mendoza, with light entering through a particular window and illuminating the tabernacle or an altar bulto, or statue, of a saint in a brilliant column of light.

At Carmel, Mendoza describes the June 21 phenomenon as an intense beam which crosses the nave, pulses across the altar, then drops at an angle to rest squarely on the Eucharistic tabernacle, the sacred receptacle that holds the host, believed by the faithful to undergo transubstantiation during Mass to become the body of Christ.

“It’s so exciting to see the excitement of the community when they see it,” Mendoza says. “It’s like a rebirth.”

At Mission San Miguel, parishioners moved by the sight of the illumination of St. Francis burst into shouts of “hallelujah,” says Mendoza.

Documenting illuminations

Mendoza has overseen archaeological undertakings at Mission San Juan Bautista and Carmel Mission, headed archaeology and conservation efforts at San Carlos Cathedral in Monterey and is leading archaeological digs at Mission Soledad in hopes of ensuring its eventual restoration. And, so far, he has documented illuminations at 14 of California’s 21 missions.

In 2003, Mendoza captured the summer solstice tabernacle illumination at Carmel Mission after several years of efforts. The winter solstice illumination of the Royal Presidio Chapel of Santa Barbara took four years because of rain, fog, illness and a scheduled out-of-state conference. After a three-day delay because of cloud cover, he finally recorded it in December 2008….

There’s nothing accidental about them: Carmel, San Juan Bautista and the other missions with illuminations were built on a meridian, an architectural orientation to the sunrise of a particular day.

The complex solar geometry of the missions is less surprising, says Mendoza, given that the missions were built in the era of a maritime economy, where celestial navigation was a common skill, and the fact that European churches were often built on meridians.

“If we go back to the medieval era, we know that the churches of Italy would be laid out in such a way that they would plant a post in the ground on the feast of a particular day, wait for the sun to rise and it would cast a shadow,” says Mendoza. “Then the friars would tie a rope and drag it along the shadow and build the church along that alignment.”

Seen in Carmel

The pastor at Mission San Juan Bautista first pointed out an illumination to Mendoza on Dec. 21, 1997, the morning of the winter solstice. Mendoza was skeptical that San Juan Bautista was unique and started searching for similar occurrences at churches across the U.S., Central America and Mexico.

In 2003, when he witnessed the summer solstice illumination at Carmel Mission, he could see the start of a pattern.

“Once I discovered it at Carmel,” he said, “I realized it could not be a coincidence in a diocese with seven missions.”

At Mission San Miguel, illuminations occur as progressions in five-day intervals, beginning with the Oct. 4 illumination of the statue of St. Francis, the illumination of the tabernacle, the statue of St. Michael the Archangel, and the statue of St. Anthony on Oct. 19.

“Significantly, immediately above St. Anthony’s head is the painted image of the stigmata with the five wounds of Christ. The five-day intervals, I believe, bear direct reference to this sacred numerology,” says Mendoza.

The pattern at the mission is reversed at the vernal equinox, says Mendoza, when the illuminations begin with St. Anthony and end with St. Francis.

“That, for me, is one of the most complex solar geometries that I’ve seen at any of the California missions,” says Mendoza.

Spring equinox illuminations at Santa Ines and San Jose missions are repeated Sept. 21, the second equinox of the year. At Mission San Luis Rey, says Mendoza, a lantern affixed to the cupola projects a Trinitarian illumination, where three spears of light project onto the altar.

Mission Santa Clara would also exhibit a summer solstice illumination, he says, if its essential window hadn’t been blocked during reconstruction….

As for Mendoza, a sense of wonder continues, even after years of research.

And he has plenty left to wonder about. More than 100,000 churches were built in Mexico alone during the mission period, says Mendoza, along with countless churches across the Southwest.

“For me, this is an unfinished agenda,” he says. “These sites are fascinating, but we’ve only begun to scratch the surface.”

Mendoza is working on a book on archeoastronomy in the Americas….

Further Reading

What is astrotheology?
Astrotheology at Google Books


  1. Bill in Tennessee

    Excellent, as usual
    Thanks, Acharya, for your continuing research and educating efforts in this field. I wonder if the world will ever be ready to let go of its religious anchors that have been weighing down the human race for centuries? Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Santeria… the list of baggage goes on and on. Keep up the good work.

    Your friend in Tennessee

  2. Excellent post

  3. It would be interesting to read if Mendoza found any direct influence between the pre-conquest religious use of light among various cultures of Mexico and Mesoamerica and that of the European Christian mission builders. That should spark some lively debates from advocates of convergent invention.

  4. 12/22/2012 First Day of Creation
    Acharya S,

    I had the feeling that you had vanished off the surface of the earth because no means of communication could be found.

    You should take the time to see what is expected theologically on the Day After the Maya Apocalypse.

    1. Not sure what you mean, since my email address is readily available on my various websites, including this one. So too are links to my Facebook, MySpace and Twitter accounts.

      Anyway, thanks for the link. :cheer:

  5. Archaeologist: American churches astronomically al
    Acharya, thank you very much for sharing your wonderful work along with that of Mr. Mendoza. He certainly looks like he has a wealth of examples to keep him busy on his quest. Blessings!

  6. William Moore AKA Resurrect Is

    Christians burned Rome
    I think the Christiandss burned Rome on an atrological date that was supposed to hearald a new age.

    1. Christians burned Rome -??
      Emperor Nero either set the torch, or it was accidental and he made sure it burned so he could get on with his urban renewal project.

  7. and?
    Have I been a fan of yours so long, or assimilated the astrotheology roots of everything, that this doesn’t surprise me in the least? Of course they are! But good to see more proof of the truth.

  8. The Christian con.
    During my ten year plus stint in Christianity and Messianic Judaism before I left it, I slowly became aware of the many pagan influences within the Christian concept.
    I’m quite contented with the fact now that Christianity along with all other religions is one of the world’s greatest con jobs. The gullible are surely gullible, and I was one myself for a time. 😀

    1. I also “left it”
      :unsure: Yes, Jim, we are so gullible. I was brainwashed form cradle to high school graduation (’55), then fundy college (’59), and seminary (’63), in Scofield Dispensational Messianic Judaism. Thanks to a willingness to study, including helpful research from great people like Acharya, I left my doubts and “ministry” behind in ’67; tho it took a few more years of hopeful searching before I realized that no religulous system has the answer.
      The question now is whether we have enough time to enjoy this illumination before the psychos completely destroy our nation, and perhaps the world.

      1. You’re not alone —
        [b][u]Dr. Bob[/u]:[/b]

        It’s amazing how many stories similar to yours that I encounter – the author of this quotation, for example:

        [quote]”After a century of exhaustive investigation, all respectable archaeologists have given up hope of recovering any context that would make Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob credible ‘historical figures.'”[/quote]

        This conclusion was drawn by William G. Dever, the son of a fundamentalist preacher. From a small Christian liberal arts college in Tennessee he went to a Protestant theological seminary that exposed him to “critical study” of the Bible, that at first he resisted. In 1960 it was on to Harvard and a doctorate in biblical theology. For thirty-five years he worked as an archaeologist, excavating in the Near East, and is now professor of Near Eastern archaeology and anthropology at the University of Arizona.

        The further the rubber band is stretched, the further it snaps back.

        pax vobiscum,

  9. Great work! We just need to get this information into schools, so kids can grow up with the truth, rather than repeating the information year after year

    1. Not the best plan, Anonymous
      (“We just need to get this information into schools”) – sorry to disagree, but I’ve been preaching for years that the home and the church are the places to teach religion, not our schools or government institutions. To initiate programs contrary to religious dogma in the schools would open the door for hoards of “Fundies” to rush in demanding equal time. It wouldn’t be long before we were up to our armpits in Creationists!

      It’s too bad there are no “[i]churches[/i]” for agnostics and atheists, but then, [i]if[/i] not, [i]why[/i] not?

      pax vobiscum,

    2. Personally,
      I belong to the Church of Jerry Springer, whose only commandment is, “[b]Be good to yourself, and each other[/b].”

      It doesn’t get much simpler than that —

      pax vobiscum,

  10. clearer
    Around 1600 years ago the Roman Church declared war on us Earth dwellers. They distroyed the mystery of life by the distortion of truth to promote their agenda. The monied interests are replicating this same stigma today. You are as intelligent as you are beautiful(only seen your picture), And a bright light to a lost world! Thank You

  11. Church Alignments and Zodiac in Art
    Hi Acharya
    I’ve been debating at length about the presence of the zodiac in The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci. The zodiac is the real Da Vinci Code! It blows the use of stellar imagery in religious art wide open.

    It is standard for all traditional churches to have the altar at the eastern end. This aligns to the rising point of the sun at the equinox.

  12. re: 12/22/2012 First Day of Creation
    [quote name=”Rush Allen”]Acharya S,

    You should take the time to see what is expected theologically on the Day After the Maya Apocalypse. [/quote]

    Report indicates above is a bad link?

    Please re-check source and re-post.

  13. Sacred Architecture
    >>Christians were merely latching onto a very ancient, astrotheological practice shared by numerous cultures worldwide.>>

    Don’t forget Masonic Lodge orientations as well…The necropolis of the Great Pyramids…Thomas Jefferson monument and the six pillars of the Zodiac on each side…the symbolic phallic monument…ONE mile away…and the list goes on and on…

    The astrotheological setup in the Sacred Mythos only turns the Bible “one turn”…there are six more to turn!!

    When “Science and Philosophy” are reunited back to Religion…and the Fanatics put back in their rubber rooms. Then Religion will become one it once was. It was designed to make people Think! None of this ‘blind’ faith nonsense where the faithful have there thinking done for them by “Proxy”.

    This is what I like about A.S. work. Right wrong or indifferent. It makes people THINK!

    If anyone believes the Ancient One Universal Relgion adherents worshiped the literal Sun…you’d be sadly mistaken! It was only the SYMBOL. The Initiates of “The Mysteries” understood this…

    Keep up the good work A.S.

  14. Waiting
    Keep up the good work. Can’t until wait for your next book comes out. I plan on getting a “Kindle”, for your Kindle Ebooks.

  15. Whose idea?
    Where did these Franciscan priests get the idea of building these astronomical/religious alignments into their California missions?
    (1) Are there such alignments in churches or monasteries in Europe that could have served as model and inspiration to these priests, mostly Spaniards, in a very new world?
    Or (2) could one of their Native American builders have had the temerity to say “Sir, we have known for a thousand years (or more) how to do a very interesting thing. May I show you?” It’s hard to imagine that the average Spanish missionary would have been willing to listen to such a suggestion from one of the heathen quasi-slave converts!
    There are, of course, such astronomical alignments at many sites in Meso-America and some at pre-Columbian sites in U.S.A. that I know of — a fine one in florida, fort instance.

  16. An interesting discovery I’ve made is that the feast days of some of the older saints, who were usually pagan gods in disguise, happen to fall on the same solar position twice in the year. For example, St. Saturnus (obviously a pagan god) has his feast day on March 7, and on October 6, when the sun rises in the same spot, is again the feast day of St. Saturnus. March 5 is St. Boachis (Bacchus) and October 7 is St. Bacchus. February 21 is St. Irene (the moon goddess) and October 20 is St. Irene. Often the titles or symbols of the old gods are used in place of the names, such as May 9 for St. Christopher who was sometimes depicted as a man with the head of a dog (god Anubis, the dog star Sirius), and August 3, St. Syrus (Sirius the dog star–god Anubis).

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