In 1967, Jean Richer published a book, Géographie sacrée du monde grec (Hachette, 1967), in which he claimed to have found a number of mysterious alignments in ancient Greek temples. In 1977 his brother, Julien Richer, realized that one of these alignments, the line Kerkyra-Delphi-Athens-Delos, actually extended much beyond in both directions. On one side, towards Europe, the line extended all the way up to Ireland, while on the other reached Mount Carmel in Israel. The European side includes seven famous cultic places devoted to St. Michael and was therefore referred to by Julien Richer as the St. Michael-Apollo Axis, since Delphi and Delos are both related to the Greek god.
Seen on a map the alignment is quite impressive. From top to bottom, the yellow dots mark the exact location of the following twelve places:
Skellig Michael (Ireland), Mount St. Michael in Cornwall (UK), Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy (France), Sacra di San Michele (Italy), Chiesa di San Galgano (Italy), Tempio di San Michele di Perugia (Italy), Santuario di San Michele del Gargano (Italy), Delphi (Greece), Island of Delos (Greece), Symi (Greece), Kourion (Cyprus), Mount Carmel (Israel). The original list of Richer included Bourges (France), Kerkyra (Corfu) and Lindos (Island of Rhodes, Greece), for which I did not find a convincing connection to St. Michael or Apollo. It also included S. Michele di Garfagnana (Italy) for which however we do not have historical information before the XII century, although it could well be much more ancient. On the other hand, it did not include San Galgano (which shares a foundation legend closely related to other important Michael’s places) and the island of Symi (which hosts a fourth century michaelitic monastery built on the same site of a temple dedicated to Apollo), while the rest is identical.
Some of these places display a distinct similarity: the sanctuaries of St. Micheal in Cornwall, Normandy, Sacra and Gargano all rise above a clearly isolated peak visible from many miles around. Similarly, the islet of Skellig Michael is an amazingly wild rock emerging from the Atlantic sea off the coast of Ireland. So impressive, in fact, that it has been chosen as the hermitical abode of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars VII (which is also one of the reasons why I am writing this post). All these sites were first occupied by monks between the fourth and the eighth century. Some of them however were erected on locations previously dedicated to pagan deities, as has been ascertained at least for Mont Saint-Michel, the Gargano sanctuary, Perugia and probably others. Indeed, tall and highly visible rocks were often used as cultic places in several ancient cultures.
The notion that the three most famous sanctuaries devoted to the vastly popular archangel-warrior-saint Michael in middle age Europe, namely Mont Saint-Michel, the Sacra and the Gargano temple, were almost exactly aligned was actually well known since at least the foundation of the more recent one, the Sacra sanctuary in the tenth century. Which, by the way, is not just exactly aligned, but also almost exactly halfway between the two sister temples.
Several other interesting places lie not far from this line, for instance Athens, the already mentioned twelfth century church devoted to St. Michael in Garfagnana, and others.
One noteworthy fact about the St. Michael alignment is that it is not an alignment along the geodesic, the shortest route on the globe, the one followed by aircrafts, but along the loxodrome, or rhumb line, the line of equal angle with the meridians. This route was the one followed by all ships until the advent of modern systems of navigation in the 18-19th century: keeping a constant angle with the meridian means in fact simply following a constant angle with respect to the compass bearing. Conveniently, on a Mercator map a loxodrome is simply a straight line. Even without a compass, keeping the same angle with respect to the cardinal points is not particularly difficult for expert travelers. If the alignment were along the geodesic, a route impossible to determine to ancient people, one would have rapidly dismissed all this alignment as pure coincidence. But the fact that such an alignment, although definitely remarkable, was in fact technologically possible to achieve even for ancient travelers motivated me to explore it a bit further.
First, I obtained the best fit loxodrome passing through the twelve sites, localized with their GPS coordinates: is the dotted red line indicated on the figure. It makes an angle of 60.435 degrees with the meridians. Second, I determined how many kilometers away from the best fit loxodrome the sites really are. I found the following results (the minus sign means the site is to the south of the loxodrome).
Skellig: -4.27; Cornwall: 7.25; Mont Saint-Michel: 5.85; Sacra: -2.24; San Galgano: -31.86; Perugia: 4.27; Gargano: 10.58; Delphi: -19.51; Delos: -7.53; Symi: 16.68; Kourion: 42.54; Carmel: -17.66. ( For some other interesting sites related to Michael or Apollo I obtained: Garfagnana: 20.64; Athens: -15.96; Lindos: -9.27). Compared to the distance from Skellig to Carmel, 4190 km, a deviation of an average 14 km and a maximum of 42 km is indeed astonishing.
Should we think of aliens, lost civilizations with advanced culture, or just coincidences? Clearly, at least for the alignment Mont Saint-Michel-Sacra-Gargano, the middle age chronichlers were well informed about the uncommon geometry and did not invoke any miracolous help for its realization. It is true that they refer only to the Sacra being halfway between the sister churches, and not on the same loxodrome, but that in the tenth century people could so easily determine the middle point along a 1800 km stretch is by itself sufficiently surprising. On the other hand, Europe contains tens of thousand “ancient” and “remarkable” sites, so in fact I imagine one could draw a great number of random alignments among them. I counted 175 villages in France alone with the toponym “Michel” in the name. But all the Michael places in the alignment list are really the most ancient and famous ones and they share more than one legendary or historical connection; most of the other French “Michel” toponyms are on the contrary much more recent and appear unrelated to the others.
So my view is that perhaps these alignments are not coincidences at all and even less the product of extraterrestrial or supernatural contacts. Maybe the ancients (Medioeval monks? Greek priests of Apollo? More ancient cultures?) really decided to build holy places along some chosen direction to create a sense of cosmic unity. It was technologically possible, although with infinite patience and dedication, so why should be hard to imagine that they really spent their lives in realizing this ambitious project? After all, building such architectural wonders as Mont Saint-Michel, San Galgano or Delphi required skills not smaller that performing accurate astronomical sightings.
If so, consciously or not, Luke Skywalker has indeed chosen the perfect place to muse about his life, the universe and everything.