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Under Ostung refers to the targeting of a church building to the east or in the direction of the rising sun. The term orientation is also related (originally 'east orientation', like orient from Latin oriens 'east, morning', present participle from oriri ' rise , rise'; actually sol oriens 'rising sun'). This is particularly important in early Christian and medieval churches (see Romanesque , Gothic ).

Orientation of a church to the east


Large medieval naves often have the shape of a cross with one longitudinal and one (or less often several) transverse axes. Since Christ called it Oriens orientium universum obtinet and the sunrise was considered a symbol of the resurrection , the longitudinal axes of the churches were aligned accordingly. The choir with the altar is usually in the east, the main entrance either in the west or in the north or south.

In the early Christian basilicas in Rome, however, the front of the church is in the east and the apse in the west. The entrance was on the east side, as in the Jerusalem temple (also in the vision of the ideal temple in Ez 43.1  EU ). Only in the 8th or 9th century did Rome adopt the orientation that had become mandatory in the Byzantine Empire and was also generally adopted in the Frankish Empire and elsewhere in Northern Europe. The original Constantinian Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem also had its entrance in the east end.

Some churches are not strictly oriented towards the east (i.e. parallel to a certain degree of latitude), but towards the rising sun - which in Europe means more towards the southeast. Examples of this can be found in particular among the great cathedrals in northern France. However, since the sun does not rise in the same place every day, the sunrise on a specific calendar day must be used as a basis in these cases. At St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, for example, it is December 26th, 1137 (the day of the patron saint in the year construction began).

Alignment with sunrise - and thus with the symbolic resurrection - was also common to the heavenly Jerusalem or to Paradise , which was in the east. However, praying in the direction of earthly Jerusalem was considered an unchristian peculiarity by some heretics.

There are also a number of other factors that affect the orientation of a church to the east. A study of around 1400 churches in North Rhine-Westphalia and Belgium shows that there is no general rule for this orientation: There is sunrise on the day of the patronage , the church consecration festival , in the case of monastery churches also that of the founder of an order ( Benedict , Augustine ), special Pilgrimage days or the direction that already existed due to the foundations of previous buildings from antiquity or special circumstances of the building site (e.g. on a city wall). For Marienkirchen, the alignment is not based on the position of the sun, but on special moon rise points , the so-called moon extremes , which occur approximately every 19 years. Another reason for the different alignment of church axes is derived from an inaccurate measurement with the compass : As far as the widespread use of the compass (in Europe only documented in the 12th century) in the Middle Ages can be said, however, its misalignments were already there known and builders knew how to correct them.

It happens that the longitudinal axes of the nave (nave) and choir ( chancel ) of a church do not lie on the same line, but the axis of the choir deviates by a few degrees from that of the nave. This so-called axis kink is attributed to the fact that the foundations of the nave and choir were measured (unplugged) on different (Sunday) days, which resulted in differences in the alignment of these axes due to the changed sunrise on these different days. With precise knowledge of the calendar used (mostly: the Julian one , including corrections), one can read from the angle of the bend of the axis exactly to the days of the measurement and thus the start of church construction and thus also important urban planning data, e.g. B. close the founding of the city of Wiener Neustadt . Criticism is expressed that this method requires an easily perceptible sunrise on the days of the measurement, which cannot generally be assumed.

An east-facing is also common for burials : In burials in the ground , the deceased are buried in many cemeteries in such a way that their faces face east. The dead await in the Christian view on there in the East last day the Second Coming , the second coming of Jesus Christ .

Task of the easting principle

Already before the Middle Ages it was customary in the east to orient the churches to the east.

A connection between the east and the vision of the prophet Ezekiel ( Ez 43.4  EU ) is assumed that the Lord had entered through the gate in the east and that it should consequently remain closed forever, as well as with the prophecy of Christ ( Mt 24, 27  EU ) that the Son of Man will appear from the east for judgment. According to an Eastern Christian work of the 4th century, the Apostolic Constitutions , the presbytery of the church, with the apse and sacristies , was to be built at the eastern end, because Christians were used to praying towards the east. In the middle stood the altar and behind it the bishop's throne, flanked by the seats of the priests, while the lay people were on the other side. But also in the east, as in Tire , there were churches with the entrance in the east and the altar in the west. While the scriptures were being read everyone looked at the readers, the bishop and priests to the west, the lay people to the east. The Apostolic Constitutions , as well as other documents of the time, do not show whether the bishop later went to the other side of the altar to “ask St. Act of sacrifice ”to celebrate.

In the West, especially in Rome, the opposite practice initially prevailed. All of the earliest Roman churches, like the Jewish temple in Jerusalem , had the entrance in the east and the holy of holies in the west. It was therefore the same for the priest to celebrate ad orientem or versus populum . It was not until the 8th or 9th century that the order was adopted in Rome to build churches with a western main entrance and an altar at the eastern end, as was already widespread in the Frankish countries . The original Constantinian basilica of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem also had the altar in the west.

Churches with the altar at the western end and the entrance on the east side were also built outside of Rome, as in Petershausen near Konstanz , Bamberg , Augsburg , Obermünster , Hildesheim and Bad Arolsen . Some churches were also not aligned with the east-west axis at all.

Urban planning aspects also played a role as early as the Middle Ages - especially when the church building was leaned against or integrated into a city wall (e.g. Laval Cathedral ). During the Renaissance and especially in the Baroque period , there was a tendency in Europe to occasionally erect churches as central buildings, in which no cardinal point is preferred and the easting loses its importance. The practice of aligning churches from a heliometric point of view (sunrise or sunset) ended around the 15th century. In his instructions on the building and furnishing of churches, Charles Borromeo , Archbishop of Milan († 1584), expressed the preference that the apse should face due east, but added that if this were not possible, the church could even be built on the north-south axis, with the apse in the south. In addition, it could be at the western end, "where mass is usually celebrated at the high altar by a priest facing the people in accordance with the church rite."

Even with the inner-city churches of the mendicant orders ( Franciscans , Dominicans ), which regularly had to take urban planning aspects into account, but at the latest with the churches of the huge Spanish-Portuguese colonial empire, the easting principle has often been abandoned (e.g. San Francisco de Asis (Ranchos de Taos) ). Modern church buildings are only rusted in exceptional cases.

See also


  • Edmund Weigand: The Ostung in the early Christian architecture. New facts on an old problem. In: Fest -schrift Sebastian Merkle on his 60th birthday. Schwann, Düsseldorf 1922, pp. 370-385.
  • Franz Joseph Dölger : Sol salutis. Prayer and song in Christian antiquity; with special regard to the Ostung in prayer and liturgy. 2nd increased edition. Aschendorff, Münster 1925.
  • Klaus Gamber : Towards the Lord! Questions about church building and prayer to the east. Pustet, Regensburg 1987, ISBN 3-7917-1144-X .
  • Rudolf Eckstein: The easting of our medieval churches up to the Reformation of Luther. EOS, St. Ottilien 1990, ISBN 3-88096-691-5 .
  • Jae-Lyong Ahn: Altar and liturgical room in the Roman Catholic church. An architectural historical consideration with special consideration of the change in the location of the altar after the Second Vatican Council . Dissertation at the Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule RWTH Aachen 2004 ( full text ).
  • Erwin Reidinger : Church planning in town and country from the perspective of "structural archeology" - location, orientation and axis bend. In: Contributions to medieval archeology in Austria. Volume 21, 2005. Ed .: Austrian Society for Medieval Archeology, Vienna. ISSN  1011-0062 .
  • Stefan Heid : Posture of prayer and easting in early Christian times. In: Rivista di Archeologia Cristiana 82, 2006 (2008), pp. 347–404 ( online ; PDF; 3.04 MB)
  • Ralf van Bühren : Art and Church in the 20th Century. The reception of the Second Vatican Council (= of councils , Series B: studies ). Schöningh, Paderborn 2008, ISBN 978-3-506-76388-4 , pp.? - ?.
  • Erwin Reidinger: Urban planning in the high Middle Ages: Wiener Neustadt - Marchegg - Vienna. In: Ferdinand Opll , Christoph Sonnlechner: European cities in the Middle Ages. In the series: research and contributions to the history of the city of Vienna. Edited by the Association for the History of the City of Vienna . ZDB ID 716753-2 . StudienVerlag Innsbruck-Vienna-Bozen. Volume 52, Vienna 2010. ISBN 978-3-7065-4856-4 . Pp. 155-176.
  • Erwin Reidinger: Orientation of medieval churches . In: Office of the Lower Austrian State Government (Hrsg.): Gestalte (n). The magazine for building, architecture and design . N ° 139, p. 43–47 ( noe-gestalten.at [accessed on September 21, 2014]).
  • Christian Wiltsch: The principle of heliometry in the site plan of medieval churches. Proof of the alignment of church axes according to the position of the sun at the church fair and patronage festival and the consequences for urban planning. Dissertation at the Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule RWTH Aachen . In the series: Reports from the science of history. Shaker Publishing House . Aachen 2014. ISBN 978-3-8440-2812-6 .
  • Stefan Heid : Altar and Church. Principles of Christian liturgy, Schnell & Steiner: Regensburg 2019, pp. 244–349, ISBN 978-3-7954-3425-0 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Ostung  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. The rising of all rising rules the universe (Pseudo-Hippolytus Romanus: In sanctum Pascha [ie sermon on the holy Easter], here quoted in Latin from Catechism Catholicae Ecclesiae , no. 1165 )
  2. a b Helen Dietz: The Eschatological Dimension of Church Architecture: The Biblical Roots of Church Orientation. (pdf, 4.8 MB) In: Sacred Architecture, 2005/10. August 2005, pp. 12-14 , accessed on November 20, 2018 (English).
  3. ^ Church Architecture . In: Peter Murray, Linda Murray (Eds.): The Oxford Dictionary of Christian Art and Architecture. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2nd edition, 2013, ISBN 978-0-19-968027-6 , p. 117
  4. ^ A b Robert Ousterhout: Is Nothing Sacred? A Modern Encounter with the Holy Sepulcher. In: D. Fairchild Ruggles (Ed.): On Location: Heritage Cities and Sites. Springer, New York et al., 2011, ISBN 978-1-4614-1108-6 , p. 134.
  5. Cf. on this in the Bible Mal 3.20  EU : “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will rise and its wings will bring healing. You will go out and jump for joy like calves coming out of the barn. "
  6. Gen 2,8  EU : "Then the Lord God laid out a garden in Eden, in the east, and there put the man whom he had formed."
  7. “(Elxai) forbids to pray to the east. He claims not to look in that direction, but to look to Jerusalem from all sides, some east to west towards Jerusalem, others west to east in the same direction. other from north to south and from south to north, always to Jerusalem "(κωλύει γὰρ εἰς ἀνατολὰς εὔξασθαι, φάσκων μὴ δεῖν προσέχειν οὕτως, ἐπὶ τὰ Ἱεροσόλυμα δὲ ἔχειν τὸ πρόσωπον ἐκ πάντων τῶν μερῶν , τοὺς μὲν ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν εἰς δύσιν προσέχειν τῇ Ἱερουσαλήμ , τοὺς δὲ ἀπὸ δύσεως εἰς ἀνατολὴν τῇ αὐτῇ, τοὺς δὲ ἀπὸ ἄρκτου εἰς μεσημβρίαν καὶ ἀπὸ μεσημβρίας εἰς ἄρκτον , ὡς πανταχόθεν τὸ πρόσωπον ἄντικρυς εἶναι τῆς Ἱερουσαλήμ - Epiphanios of salamis, Panarion , I, 19.3 ). See also an English translation ( memento of the original dated September 6, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.masseiana.org
  8. ^ Wiltsch: Heliometry . P. 133.
  9. ^ Wiltsch: Heliometry . P. 130.
  10. ^ Wiltsch: Heliometry . Pp. 136-137.
  11. ^ Wiltsch: Heliometry . P. 132.
  12. ^ Wiltsch: Heliometry . P. 38.
  13. ^ Wiltsch: Heliometry . Pp. 56-57.
  14. ^ Erwin Reidinger: Orientation of medieval churches. In: CREATE (N). The magazine for building, architecture and design. Ed .: Office of the Lower Austrian Provincial Government. Sankt Pölten. No. 139, issue 3/2013. ZDB ID 2708987-3 . Pp. 43-47.
  15. ^ Reidinger: Orientation. P. 46.
  16. ^ Wiltsch: Heliometry . Pp. 8-9.
  17. Ulrike Kalbaum: Romanesque lintels and tympana in southwest Germany . Waxmann Verlag 2011. p. 133.
  18. ^ Church regulations, Apostolic Constitutions and Canons (Constitutiones Apostolorum) , II, 57
  19. ^ William E. Addis: A Catholic Dictionary (Aeterna Press 1961), article, "Church: place of Christian assembly"
  20. ^ Helen Dietz: The Eschatological Dimension of Church Architecture: The Biblical Roots of Church Orientation. In: Sacred Architecture, 2005/10. August 2005, accessed November 20, 2018 . Articles "eastward position" and "orientation". In: The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Oxford University Press, 2005, ISBN 978-0-19-280290-3 .
  21. ^ Heinrich Otte: Handbook of the church art-archeology of the German Middle Ages . Leipzig 1868, pp. 11–12 ( digitized in the Google book search).
  22. ^ Wiltsch: Heliometry . P. 137.
  23. ^ Carlo Borromeo: Instructiones fabricae et suppellectilis ecclesiasticae. Fondazione Memofonte onlus. Studio per l'elaborazione informatica delle fonti storico-artistiche, Volume 1, Chapter 10: De cappella maiori , pp. 18-19 (PDF; 487 kB).