Deum Creatorum venite adoremus.

The Society for the History of Astronomy( held their Spring conference in Manchester at Cheetham school of Music’s library.


The outside of the library.




Climbing up the stairs to the library.



One of the two corridors with side rooms full to the ceiling with books.

Amongst all the talks taking place in the 14th. century building the one I most looked forward to was given by Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ. He did not disappoint.   He spoke about the role of Jesuits in Astronomy.

Brother Consmolango.

Brother Consolmagno

One of the most amazing facts was how quickly after St. Ignatius Loyola (or Inigo to his friends) founded the order were their members involved in research and scientific education. The order was founded in 1540 just three years before Nicholas Copernicus published his ‘On The Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres’ which suggested that the Sun rather than the Earth was at the centre of the Solar System.

One of Inigo’s calls was to find God in everything, the church holds that the universe is real (which may seem like stating the obvious but some schools of philosophy disagree), that it follows laws (and is not run on the whim of nature gods doing as they please) and that to study the Universe is an act of worship.

Father Clavius’ work on maths.

The first Jesuit that Br. Consolmagno mentioned was Fr. Christopher Clavius (1538-1612) who under the order of Pope Gregory XIII worked on reforming the calendar giving us the now commonly used Gregorian calendar. As part of his research the ‘Tower of the Winds’ was built in the Vatican to measure the calendar and to help determine the dates of feasts. He was responsible for the rigorous teaching of maths in schools, his textbooks being used for decades after his death.


Another Priest was Giovanni Riccioli (1598-1671) who reformed the way features on the moon were named and discovered that there was a binary system in the Plough (Alcor and Mizar) and that  Alpha Centauri is also a binary. He was responsible for building an observatory in Bologna and for constructing many varied scientific instruments.


Then there was Maximillian Hell, he observed the transit of Venus from Sweden. His reputation and importance were ignored until the 1860’s.



Next to be mentioned was Angelo Secchi (1818-1878) who classified over 5000 stellar spectra helping astronomy to move from simply astrometry to a physical science. In 1865 he started to observe the sun and being in possession of magnetometers was able to show that the sun affected that Earth. He also observed Mars and made mention of ‘canali’ which later became interpreted as canals and artificial ones at that by a non-religious observer!


The Vatican observatory still runs today – now in Arizona – despite the many attempts by civil authorities to close it down especially by the Garibaldi government. Today the observatory works in collaboration with other observatories as well as astronomers who want to test out ideas before submitting them for time on more major and costlier facilities.


At lunch time we were able to visit the library where there were original books written by Jesuits. (More photos to follow when I find the cable to transfer them onto the computer!)DSCN0176


When asked about how science and religion are perceived by each other the good Brother made the point that the seeming antagonism (especially in the USA) is due more to ignorance especially amongst Catholics who have not been catechised well. Who have not learnt about how the church has fostered research instead believing the common polemics because that is all that is readily available and talked about in the general sphere.

So it seems much work needs to be done in reconnecting  believers (of all denominations) with a fairer more balanced understanding.

All in all a very interesting day.