About Galileo, churches and the sun

I was recently alerted to a blog, The Deeps of Time, which deals with science and the Catholic faith.  Even as I am starting at a book on my desk about Galileo (sent by a kind reader from my wish list) by J.R. Heilbron I found this great quote on the aforementioned blog:

“In a generation which saw the Thirty Years’ War and remembered Alva in the Netherlands, the worst that happened to men of science was that Galileo suffered an honorable detention and a mild reproof, before dying peacefully in his bed.”

Alfred North Whitehead

All liberals, anti-Catholics, and even many sensible people have the oddest ideas about Galileo.  There is a general myth that the Church treated Galileo cruelly or that he was tortured by the Inquisition or that his ideas were simply rejected because the Church hates science.

Not so.

Santa Maria degli AngeliBTW… Heilbron has another book on churches and cathedrals as solar observatories.  It is called The Sun In The Church. I am putting that on my wishlist immediately.  This is clearly in the Just Too Cool category as well as Look! Up In The Sky!  I have in mind church in Rome, such as Santa Maria Degli Angeli, where there is a solar clock in the form of a narrow shaft of sunlight streaming to the floor to trace its analemma over the course of the year across a 45 meter long meridian line.  It also could track certain stars, such as Sirius, the Dog Star.  Clement XI (+1721) commissioned it to check the accuracy of the Gregorian Calendar.  That sun clock was used to determine solar noon for all of Rome.  A signal would be sent from that church by means of a flag, watched for across town from the Gianicolo Hill where a canon … make that cannon… would be fired to sound noon.   Not exactly sextants on the quarterdeck, and the striking of eight bells, but they did make it noon.  On a couple days of the year, the sun streams directly into the main doors of St. Peter’s Basilica and the ancient Egyptian obelisk in the square is the gnomon of a great solar calendar.

Okay… I’ll stop now.

I will now…


… read Heilbron on Galileo and drink some Mystic Monk Coffee!

Other than the fact that I like coffee when I read in the morning, the connection of coffee in this post should be obvious, even to readers of the Bitter Pill and the Fishwrap.  Even they should be inspired to use my link to buy themselves some beans or tea leaves.

Think about it.  What do coffee beans need to grow?  They need…. ummmm….. time.  That’s it!  They need time!  I was going to say sun of course.  But, now that I think of it, a great deal of coffee is grown in the shade.  Some coffee is grown in the sun, but that method requires more resources.   No matter.

When you buy Mystic Monk Coffee you are helping the Carmelites in Wyoming build their churchChurch… get it?  Sun?  Churches?  Coffee?

But wait… there’s more!

Turning the glass and striking the bell at noon, after taking the altitude of he sun, was a common practice on board HMS Surprise and all the other ships in the Aubrey/Maturin books.  And their steward, Preserved Killick, made them exceptionally good coffee… when it wasn’t tainted with rat droppings.

I hope the Carmelites, when they build their great church for their monastery, will include a small hole for a shaft of light to sketch its bright analemma on the pavement.

Mystic Monk Coffee!

It’s sunny!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. kjmacarthur says:

    They really must have gone through the clergy fast in those days if they fired a canon every day.

  2. John UK says:

    A signal would be sent from that church by means of a flag, watched for across town from the Gianicolo Hill where a canon would be fired to sound noon.

    ROTFL :-)
    I suspect in American English canon may be the customary spelling of cannon, but here in the U.K. cannons are ordnance, canons members of a cathedral or other chapter.
    Mind you, knowing the great numbers of canons to be found in Rome, perhaps the timekeepers had found a practical method for keepinmg the numbers in check :-))

    Anyway, the mind-pictures generated considerably brightened a dull, rainy, autumnal afternoon here in London.
    Many thanks
    John U.K.

  3. Yes.. yes… one little typo and everyone turns into a comedian.

  4. donboyle says:

    “The Sun in the Church” was a fun bit of history/religion/science. My public library had it on the shelf, so I picked it up. It was fun and a little technical in spots. For my review:


  5. MJ says:

    Santa Maria Degli Angeli – been there!

  6. tealady24 says:

    Don’t you love your wish list? [I do! It has been a source of great consolation.] Any book having to do with cathedrals is fascinating to me! What wonders were wrought in those medieval centuries! Pure wonder, pure gala!

  7. introibo says:

    Father, please check out Robert Sungenis’ Galileo Was Wrong, the Church Was Right: A Synopsis of the Scientific and Historical Evidence for Geocentrism, which covers the Galileo affair and the scientific and biblical evidence for geocentrism. Before anyone scoffs, please note that this book has been favorably reviewed by E. Michael Jones (Culture Wars) and a good number of scientists and PhD’s. [Yahhhh…. I think I’ll pass for now. I have this nice big book on Galileo here right now.]

  8. Scott W. says:

    Turn comments off now. :)

  9. Robert_H says:

    Mystic Monk Coffee: Not tainted with rat droppings!

  10. albizzi says:

    Cardinal Francesco degli Albizzi coul be proud in bringing down the jansenist heresy.
    But his pride must have been mitigated the day he passed away and thus he understood that he was wrong in bullying this poor Galileo: The Sun doesn’t orbit around Earth, and the telescope isn’t a devilish invention either. “E pur si muove”…
    Galileo’s heroic virtues wisely stalled before the Holy Inquistion so far as he was ever threatened to be burnt at stake. Like it is recalled his detention was mild.
    Errare humanum est, perseverare diabolicum: Ironically this time the quote aimed first at the Cardinal and his court, not Galileo.

  11. albizzi says:

    Regarding the Santa Maria degli Angeli church, I remember I visited a church in Bologna where there is a similar solar clock. I forgot its name.

  12. PostCatholic says:

    “All liberals, anti-Catholics, and even many sensible people have the oddest ideas about Galileo.”

    Not so of “all liberals.”

  13. There are exceptions who prove the rule.

  14. PostCatholic says:

    Thanks for that concession. I’m sure he was sweating bullets the night after being sentenced; it was merciful to have that commuted to a house arrest.

  15. Denita says:

    Just FYI: I finally bought a bag of Mystic Monk Coffee at the local Catholic bookstore. Caramel ground, I also “splurged” and bought a blue cup to go with it. Boy, it smells good!

  16. Denita: And now that you know it, you can use my link to buy more!

  17. ejcmartin says:

    There are some excellent podcasts on science and the Catholic faith on the “Catholic Laboratory” including one on Galileo.

  18. Tracy says:

    Father, what do you think of the neo-geocentrist movement? It seems to me it’s another expression of extreme fundamentalism in the Church (along with sedevacantism, feeneyism, young-earthism, etc.) Interested to know your opinion. Thanks. [I haven’t given it any thought.]

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