The orientation of a Lodge is its situation due East and West. The word is derived from the technical language of architecture, where it is applied, in the expression orientation of churches to designate a similar direction in building. Although Masonic Lodges are still, when circumstances will permit, built on an east and west direction, the explanation of the usage, contained in the old lectures of the eighteenth century, that it was "because all chapels and churches are, or ought to be so," has become obsolete, and other symbolic reasons are assigned.
Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that such was really the origin of the usage. The orientation of churches was a principle of ecclesiastical architecture very generally observed by builders, in accordance with ecclesiastical law from the earliest times after the apostolic age. Thus in the Apostolic Constitutions, which, although falsely attributed to Saint Clement, are yet of great antiquity, we find the express direction, Sit aedes oblonga ad orientem versus--let the church be of an oblong boron, directed to the East--a direction which would be strictly applicable in the building of a Lodge-room. Saint Charles Borromeo, in his Instructiones Fabricae Ecclesiasticae, is still more precise, and directs that the rear or altar part of the church shall look directly to the east, in orientem versus recta spectat, and that it shall be not ad solstitialem sed ad aequinoctialeen orientem--not to the Solstitial East, which varies by the deflection of the sun's rising, but to the Equinoctial East, where the sun rises at the equinoxes, that is to say, due East.
But we must not forget that, as Bingham (Antiquities, book viii, chapter in) admits, although the usage was very general to erect churches toward the East, yet "it admitted of exceptions, as necessity or expediency"; and the same exception prevails in the construction of Lodges, which, although always erected due East and West, where circumstances will permit, are sometimes from necessity built in a different direction. But whatever may be externally the situation of the Lodge with reference to the points of the compass, it is always considered internally that the Master's seat is in the east, and therefore that the Lodge is "situated due East and West." As to the original interpretation of the usage, there is no doubt that the Masonic was derived from the ecclesiastical, that is, that Lodges were at first built East and West because churches were; nor can we help believing that the church borrowed and Christianized its symbol from the Pagan reverence for the place of sunrising. The admitted reverence in Freemasonry for the east as the place of lithe, gives to the usage the modern Masonic interpretation of the symbol of orientation. The Fardle of Facions, printed in 1555, has a quaint description of church arrangement. This curious essay is found in the Symbolism of Churches and Church Ornaments 1906, John M. Neale and Benjamin Webb. Fardle, by the way, means package or bundle. The importance of the direction of the building is indicated by the positive instructions.
Oratories, temples, or places of prayer, which we call churches, might not be built without the good will of the bishop of the diocese. And when the timber was ready to be framed, and the foundation digged, it behoved them to sende for the bishoppe, to hallowe the firste corner stone of the foundation, and to make the signe of the Crosse thereupon, and to laie it, and directe it juste easte and west. And then might the masons sette upon the stone, but not afore. This churche did they use to builds after the facion of a crosse, and not unlike the shape of a manne. The channcelle, in the whiche is conteined the highe altars and the quiere, directe fulle in the easte, representeth the heade, and therefore ought to be somewhat rounde, and muche shorter than the body of the churche. And yet upon respect that the heade is the place for the eyes, it ought to be of more lighte, and to bee seperate with a partition, in the steade of a neeke, from the bodye of the churche. This particion the Latine calleth cancelli, and obt of that cometh our terme channcelle. On eche side of this channcelle peradventure, for so fitteth it beste, should stand a turret; as it were for two ears, and in these the belles to be hanged, to calle the people to service, by daie and by night. Undre one of these turretts is there commonly a vaulte, whose doore openeth into the quiere, and in this are laid up the hallowed vessels and ornamented and other utensils of the churche.
We call it a vestrie. The other part oughte to be fitted, that having as it were on eche side an arme, the reste maye resemble the bodye with the fete stretched in breadthe, and in lengthe. On eche side of the bodye the pillers to stande, upon whose coronettes or heades the vaulte or rophe of the churche maye reste. And to the foote beneth aulters to be joyned. Those aulters to be orderly allay coffered with two aulter clothes, and garnished with the erosse of Christe, or some little cofre of reliques. At eehe ende a candelsticke, and a booke towarde the middes. The walls to be painted without and within and diversely paineted. That they also should have in every parish a fair round stone, made hollow and fitt to hold water. in the which the water consecrate for baptism may be kept for the christening of children. Upon the right hand of the high aulter that there should be an almorie, either cut into the wall or framed upon it, in the sthich they should have the saerament of the Lorde's body, the holy oyle for the sieke, and ehrismatorie, alwaie to be locked. Furthermore they would that ther should be a pullpite in the middes of the church, wherein the prieste maye stonde upon Sondaies and holidays to teaehe the people those things that it behoveth them to knowe. The channeelle to serve onlsr for the priests and cierks; the rest of the temporalle multitude to be in the bodye of the ehurche, seperate notwithstanding, the men on the right side, and the women on the left.
Messrs. Neale and Webb show in their introduction the tendency of the earliest churches to produce an antitype to the typical Tabernacle, and also that it has been pointed out that a Christian Church built at Edessa in 202 A.D., with three parts, was expressly after the model of the Temple. Referring to the Apostolic Constitutions we are told, " 'The Church', they say must be oblong in form, and pointing to the Esqqt.
The oblong form was meant to symbolize a ship, the ark which was to save us from the stormy world.
The Church of Saints Vincenzo and Anastatio at Rome, near Saint Paolo alle Tre Fontane, built by Honorius I, 630 A.D., has its wall curbed like the ribs of a ship.
The Constitution itself refers to the resemblance of this oblong form to a ship. It would be perfectly unnecessary to support this obvious piece of symbolism by citations.
The orientation is an equally valuable example of intended symbolism. We gain an additional testimony to this from the well-known passage of Tertullian, 200 A.D., about 'The house of our dove.' Whether this corrupt extract be interpreted with Mede or Bingham, there can be no doubt that it its in lucem means that the church should face the East or dayspring.
The praying towards the East was the almost invariable custom in the early churches, and as symbolical as their standing in prayer upon the Festivals of the Resurrection. So common was orientation in the most ancient churches, that Socrates mentions particularly the church at Antioch as having its 'position reversed: for the altar does not look to the east but to the west.' This rule appears to have been more scrupulously followed in the East than in the West; though even in Europe examples to the contrary are exceptions" (see Oblongs) .
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