Early American Catholic churches may have been built using geometry and sunlight to highlight liturgical and religious events.

Ruben G. Mendoza, an archaeologist and chair of the School of Social, Behavioral and Global Studies at California State University Monterey Bay, contends these “illuminations” were intentional, perhaps part of an evangelization effort by New World missionaries during the Spanish colonial period.

They were first noticed at Mission San Juan Bautista in 1997. Mendoza and others have spent the last 20 years researching the illuminations.

“This is not coincidence,” Mendoza told about 200 people crowded into old Mission San Jose in Fremont on Oct. 4. “How they did this is anybody’s guess.

“People used to accuse me of using Photoshop until they saw these illuminations themselves.”

Saints’ paintings, statues and parts of the altar can be illuminated, he said, often to coincide with a feast day.

“Mission San Jose has spectacular alignments,” Mendoza said, especially around March 19, the feast of St. Joseph.

On the evening of Oct. 4, sunlight from a window above the choir loft shot a beam of light directly onto a cherub carved on the altar. In March, the sunlight directly hits a statue of St. Joseph atop the altar.

Because of the movement of the earth, the sun will strike different parts of the interior at different times of the year.

These churches were built with a level of precision and attention to liturgy, he said, though as some of them have been renovated, they’ve lost their illumination.

Full story at Catholic Voice Oakland.