My research interests lie in the art historical and visual astronomical exploration of frescoes in medieval Italy, in the orientation of Cistercian abbey churches in Wales, UK, and Europe and their theological relationship to landscape, as well as how, in contemporary western astrology, meaning is derived from natal horoscopes.

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Welsh Monastic Skyscapes Project

University of Wales Trinity Saint David, The Sophia Centre.

Publication: Brady, Bernadette, Darrelyn Gunzburg, and Fabio Silva. ‘The Orientation of Cistercian Churches in Wales: A Cultural Astronomy Case Study.’ Cîteaux – Commentarii cistercienses 67, no. 3-4 (2016): 275-302.

This paper considers how the union of sun, landscape, and architecture contributes to the understanding of Welsh Cistercian Abbeys. From August 2014 to March 2016 we surveyed and measured the orientation of all Cistercian monastic sites with extant foundations in Wales, as well as the elevation of their surrounding landscapes. Subsequent analysis of this data using methodologies drawn from cultural astronomy revealed that, by intentionally orientating the abbey to make use of the local topography, each Welsh Cistercian abbey church formed a relationship to the sun’s light on theologically significant days. Other themes that emerged include the emphasis on sunsets and the west; the focus on the astronomical equinox rather than that of the Julian calendar equinox; and the solar position on Michaelmas and/or Saint David’s Day. We conclude by discussing the implications of these results for wider debates in the field of Cistercian studies.

The Cistercian Skyscapes Project

Other info

This work on the siting of Cistercian abbeys in their landscape has continued into the Cistercian Skyscapes Project, looking at the regional difference between Cistercian abbeys in England, Wales, Scotland, and the island of Ireland. We presented our findings at the Leeds IMC 3 July 2019 and aim to publish this work in the next twelve months. 

Rievaulx Abbey, UK, August 2017. Photo: Gunzburg and Brady.

Reflecting on Mary: The Splendor of the Madonna in the Lower Church of Assisi.

Publication: Gunzburg, Darrelyn. ‘Reflecting on Mary: the Splendor of the Madonna in the Lower Church of Assisi.’ In Mater Sanctissima, Misericordia, Et Dolorosa: Medieval Franciscan Approaches to the Virgin Mary, edited by Steven J. McMichael. Franciscan Tradition in the Middle Ages. Leiden: Brill, 2019.

Abstract: The Basilica of San Francesco, the place that was created as the burial site of St. Francis of Assisi (c.1181/82-1226), the founder and leader of the Friars Minor, consists of two churches one on top of the other, both cruciform in plan with a single nave. As has been well-documented, the Lower Church was dug into the rock and completed on 25 May 1230, when St. Francis’ body was translated from the Church of St. George, where it had been taken and buried on his death to avoid being ransacked by the Perugians. Thus the Lower Church served as a sanctuary for the tomb of St. Francis. This Lower Church is a place into which little natural daylight falls. Nevertheless, in the reconstruction and redecoration that occurred from 1288 onwards, two frescos of Mary were painted in the second decade of the fourteenth century in the north and south transepts, both with gilded backgrounds. La Madonna dei Tramonti (Madonna of the Sunsets) was painted by Pietro Lorenzetti (c.1280–c.1348) between the years 1316–1319, located towards the base of the east wall of the south transept. The name was said to derive from the fact that every evening the fresco is lit by the rays of the setting sun. Yet the literature on this fresco is not clear with regards to which sunsets the title is referring, why the sunlight was considered theologically important, nor how sunlight could get into the lower church. A second fresco, the Madonna and Child with Two Royal Saints, painted by Simone Martini (1284-1344) slightly earlier than those of Lorenzetti, is situated in mirror position to La Madonna dei Tramonti, on the opposite side of the crossing towards the base of the east wall of the north transept. The literature is silent about the connection of this fresco in relation to the sun. This paper, therefore, considers both frescos from the perspectives of their initial creation, their subject matter, their placements in connection with the sun, and the associated role of the sun in Christian theology as a way of investigating how the medieval Franciscans understood and reflected on Mary.

The Basilica of San Francesco from the south. Photo: D. Gunzburg.

Space, Place and Religious Landscapes

Gunzburg, Darrelyn, and Bernadette Brady, eds. Space, Place, and Religious Landscapes: Living Mountains. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2020 (forthcoming).

Exploring sacred mountains around the world, this book examines whether bonding and reverence to a mountain is intrinsic to the mountain, constructed by people, or a mutual encounter. Chapters explore mountains in England, Scotland, Wales, Italy, Ireland, the Himalaya, Japan, Greece, USA, Asia and the Andes, and embrace the union of sky, landscape and people to examine the religious dynamics between human and non-human entities. 

This book takes as its starting point the fact that mountains physically mediate between land and sky and act as metaphors for bridges from one realm to another, recognising that mountains are relational and that landscapes form personal and group cosmologies. The book fuses ideas of space, place and material religion with cultural environmentalism and takes an interconnected approach to material religio-landscapes. In this way it fills the gap between lived religious traditions, personal reflection, phenomenology, historical context, environmental philosophy, myths and performativity. 

In defining material religion as active engagement with mountain-forming and human- shaping landscapes, the research and ideas presented here provide theories that are widely applicable to other forms of material religion.


Gunzburg, Darrelyn, ‘Giotto’s Salone: An Astrological Investigation into the Fresco Paintings of the First Floor Salone of the Palazzo Della Ragione, Padua, Italy’ (Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Bristol, 2014).


Gunzburg, Darrelyn. ‘Giotto’s Sky: The Fresco Paintings of the First Floor Salone of the Palazzo Della Ragione, Padua, Italy.’ Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 7, no. 4 (2013): 407-433.

Gunzburg, Darrelyn. ‘Giotto’s Sky: The Fresco Paintings of the First Floor Salone of the Palazzo Della Ragione, Padua, Italy.’ In The Imagined Sky: Cultural Perspectives, edited by Darrelyn Gunzburg, 87-113. Sheffield: Equinox Publishing, 2016.

Gunzburg, Darrelyn. ‘The Reception of Islamic Astrology in the Images of the Palazzo Della Ragione, Padua, Italy.’ ARAM Society for Syro-Mesopotamian Studies 29 – Religious Offerings and Sacrifices in the Ancient Near East; Astrology In The Ancient Near East; The River Jordan, no. 1 & 2 (2017): 177-194.

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Darrelyn Gunzburg

Darrelyn Gunzburg at the ‘Sensing Spaces, Architecture reimagined’ exhibition at the  Royal Academy, London, UK, 2014.