Equinox experiment

When I think of Stonehenge, one of the first things that comes to mind is that it’s aligned with the sun at the solstices. It’s thousands of years old, it’s associated with burials, there’s so much we don’t know about its history…but it’s the alignments that caught my interest. I was always a bit disappointed as a kid that this only seemed to be a feature of ancient monuments—ancient monuments that were far away so I couldn’t visit them and watch the sun rise or set in a special way.

For several years now, though, I’ve been wondering if a few modern buildings are also oriented towards the sun—specifically, the Cathedral of Saint Paul. It took me a while, but I’ve noticed that around the equinoxes, the sun rises closer and closer to the east doors. Once the thought occurred to me, then I wanted to see if it was true: would the sun shine straight onto the doors on the morning of either the spring or the fall equinox? But checking this out proved to be trickier than expected. Quite often, I’d forget until a few days after the equinox, and by the time I waited six months until the next one, I’d forget again. Sometimes I’d remember, but it would be a cloudy morning or I wouldn’t be able to be at the Cathedral.

This year, it all came together. Sunny weather, still a decent temperature to be outside taking pictures, and this year I remembered in time! Et voilà:

Cathedral of Saint Paul

And…inconclusive. That shadow covering half the building is cast by a skyscraper in downtown St. Paul that obviously wasn’t there when the Cathedral was completed in 1915. I suppose I could contact people at the Cathedral and ask if it was meant to face the equinox sunrise, but where’s the fun in that? (And how disappointed would I be if they said it wasn’t?) But now it’s got me thinking: if one building may have been oriented to the equinoxes, maybe it’s not the only one in town. And does anyone do this with modern modern buildings?

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