Midwinter Solstice Illumination of the Santa Barbara Presidio Chapel

by Mike Imwalle

2011 Midwinter Solstice sun shining through the choir loft window of the Presidio Chapel, El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park. Photo by Mike Imwalle.

First documented in December 2008 by Dr. Ruben Mendoza of California State University, Monterey Bay, the illumination of the Presidio Chapel altar was witnessed by a handful of Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation Board, staff, and volunteers again this morning!

Dr. Mendoza’s study of archaeology, history, and sacred geometry of early California sites led to the discovery of the alignment in 2003. After nearly five years, the weather and personal schedules cooperated and the phenomena was finally documented in 2008.

Progression of images detailing the 2008 Midwinter Solstice Illumination documented by Dr. Ruben Mendoza. Photos by Mike Imwalle.
2011 Illuminations of the tabernacle. Photo by Mike Imwalle.

Through careful design, the builders of the Presidio Chapel placed the choir loft window in such a manner that a beam of light projects onto the upper left-hand corner of the altar. As the sun rises the light descends diagonally across the reredo altar until it fully illuminates the tabernacle on the altar.

A more detailed report on Dr. Mendoza’s findings and research at other early California sites can be found in his article “Presidio Light: A Midwinter Solstice Event at the Presidio Chapel of Santa Barbara” in SBTHP’s quarterly journal La Campana (Fall 2009. Vo. 35, No. 4).

Regula Campbell, Jack Theimer, Jarrell Jackman, Mike Imwalle, Terri Imwalle, Mary Ellen Tiffany, Sally Foushe, and Doug Campbell aglow after the Midwinter Solstice Illumination December 21, 2011. Photo by Mike Imwalle.

Mike Imwalle is the Archaeologist at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation.

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