The Sun in the Church: Cathedrals as Solar Observatories

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Harvard University Press, 1999 - History - 366 pages
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Between 1650 and 1750, four Catholic churches were the best solar observatories in the world. Built to fix an unquestionable date for Easter, they also housed instruments that threw light on the disputed geometry of the solar system, and so, within sight of the altar, subverted Church doctrine about the order of the universe.

A tale of politically canny astronomers and cardinals with a taste for mathematics, The Sun in the Church tells how these observatories came to be, how they worked, and what they accomplished. It describes Galileo's political overreaching, his subsequent trial for heresy, and his slow and steady rehabilitation in the eyes of the Catholic Church. And it offers an enlightening perspective on astronomy, Church history, and religious architecture, as well as an analysis of measurements testing the limits of attainable accuracy, undertaken with rudimentary means and extraordinary zeal. Above all, the book illuminates the niches protected and financed by the Catholic Church in which science and mathematics thrived.

Superbly written, The Sun in the Church provides a magnificent corrective to long-standing oversimplified accounts of the hostility between science and religion.

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The sun in the Church: cathedrals as solar observatories

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It is difficult for contemporary readers who live in an increasingly global world to comprehend the difficulty of establishing the correct date of Easter--the first Sunday, after the first full moon ... Read full review

Contents

Renaissance and Astronomy
5
CounterReformation and Cosmology
12
The Science of Easter
24
Copyright

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About the author (1999)

J. L. Heilbron, formerly Professor of History and the Vice Chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley, is a Senior Research Fellow at Worcester College, University of Oxford. He was awarded the George Sarton Medal by the History of Science Society in 1993 for his contributions to the field.

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