We know from Vitruvius -De Architectura- that, already in roman age, they used to build temples with oriented windows to allow the sunbeams to enlighten a precise point of the building in a fixed moment. This moment usually was the sunrise in the holiday of the god titular of the temple.
Its widely known from the ancient texts and from studies about the Medieval architecture- that the habits of erecting sacred buildings calculating the direction of the sunbeams in precise days was inherited by the Christian architecture.
The reason of all this can be found in the thematic of the Heavens gates that, in this case, will be just evokated.
As sample of the importance of the orientation in the churches, we can point out the case of the destroyed riminese cathedral of Santa Colomba.
Rimini actually was -and is- the only Italian town whose cathedral has the evocative dedication to Santa Colomba (1) of Sens (Central France) , martyr of the Senon people.
The precise reason of the dedication to this saint- venerated in Rimini almost since the VIth cent.- had already been forgotten in XIth cent..
In fact, in one document of the XIth cent. -and, later, in 1155 a. C., when the ancient palaeochristian cathedral (2) was restored mainly in the apsidal zone-, Santa Colomba (colomba=dove) was quoted as symbol of the Holy Spirit.
Nevertheless this attempt to "direct" the devotion to a more usual "subject" clashed with many aspects of the ancient religious tradition, so, a legend, that datable to the same XIIth cent., tells of the miraculous arrival -after a travel by sea- in the town, of a relic belonging to Colomba of Sens. This relic still existed in the XVIth. cent. when other relics of the martyr, coming from Sens, were added to it.
The reasons of the dedication to Santa Colomba of Sens are anyway unknown still today.
A confirmation of the ancient dedication to Santa Colomba of Sens can be deduced from the orientation of the old cathedral, witnessed by the still existing bell-tower and by some drawings belonging to the XVIIth cent.
So, we can note that the axis of the building was oriented to around 33° AZ thats -more or less- (3) in that point of the horizon where the sun rises in Rimini the day of the feast of Santa Colomba (December, 31st).
So, probably, the (only?) apse of the ancient palaeocristian building had a window just in the centre and it was enlightened just in that moment.
We can add that, once that the apsidal zone was rebuilt in the XIIth cent. when the reason of the dedication had been forgotten the apse didnt show any central window anymore, while the apse on the right "leans forward" (?) making a clear asymmetry in the plan. This certainly depends on the need to allow the sunshine to enlighten the window on the right, that was probably an oriented window.
Picture (left) a plan of the XVIIth cent. ; (centre) hypothetical palaeo-christian plan; (right) hypothetical plan in the XIIIth. cent.
(1) As far as the knowledge of the author is, other italian churches and almost one cathedral are dedicated to Santa Colomba, but they usually are references to the Holy Spirit or to santa Colomba of Aquileia.
A little church (pieve) dedicated to Santa Colomba of Sens can be found in Onferno, a little village around Rimini. The dedication to Santa Colomba of Sens is anyway quite diffused in other european contries.
(2) The old writers point out its origins in IVth cent.
(3) The ancient drawings have a degree of precision that, of course, doesnt fit with todays standards.
The liturgical christian year -with reference to the julian calendar- was stated in 325 a. C..
We know that the mistakes of the julian calendar brought , in 1582, when it was reformed, to a difference of 11 days between the solar year and the year of the calendar.
So, the quite precise orientation of S. Colomba witnesses its ancient origin.
A quite recent study (1960-1970) about Santa Colomba reports a wrong orientation of the church; the mistake can be identified in around 33° (!)
Pagina iniziale - Index page
Appunti - Notes