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The Sun in the Church: Cathedrals as Solar Observatories Paperback – March 2, 2001
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The Sun in the Church by J.L. Heilbron is a provocative work of scholarship that challenges long-held views of the relationship between science and Christianity. Heilbron's main point is simple enough: "The Roman Catholic Church gave more financial and social support to the study of astronomy for over six centuries, from the recovery of ancient learning during the late Middle Ages into the Enlightenment, than any other, and, probably, all other, institutions." Despite the persecution of Galileo, Heilbron notes, the Church actively supported mathematical and astronomical research--often designing cathedrals that could also function as observatories--in order to set the precise date of Easter (a crucial endeavor for maintaining the unity of the Church). Heilbron's fluid, engaging style brings his detailed reconstructions of 16th- and 17th-century Church politics to life. And his argument that scientific knowledge was deemed both morally neutral and politically useful during the Reformation and beyond yields an unusually interesting, complex, and human understanding of Catholicism in the early Modern period. --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
It is difficult for contemporary readers who live in an increasingly global world to comprehend the difficulty of establishing the correct date of EasterAthe first Sunday, after the first full moon, after the vernal equinox. Heilbron (formerly history and vice chancellor, Berkeley; currently Senior Research Fellow, Oxford) chronicles the ironic relationship between astronomy and the Catholic Church as it seeks the means to determine this date. This is the story of politically astute astronomers and cardinals who have to reconcile church doctrine with Galileo's universe. Heilbron deals specifically with four cathedrals, which, as a result of the "Easter date problem," function as both houses of worship and excellent solar observatories. The text is filled with fine detail and is richly illustrated. An erudite and scholarly work with extensive notes and bibliography, this may be a bit narrow in scope for the average reader; recommended for large public and academic libraries.AJames Olson, Northeastern Illinois Univ. Lib., Chicago
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
If you've ever wondered about the modern history of the development of astronomy (or modern archaeoastronomy), time and calendars, this book is for you. In fact, if you've never thought about this stuff, and are completely ignorant of the matter, this book is for you!
I've long held an interest in archaeoastronomy and astrotheology, and I found this book to be a nice treat for the European history and development of time measurement. I've read several other books in the field of archaeoastronomy by the likes of those such as Dr. Krupp.
As a person who never did very well in math, I was a little taken aback by the amount of technical and mathematical information in this book - above and beyond others I've read. It's a heavy read. But don't let its technological detail and it's mathematical and scientific approach scare you away from this most fascinating read. If you tough it out, you might just come through the other side with a far better understanding of the world around you.
Heilbron starts his study primarily in the 1500's and works forward to the late 1800's, showing the (primarily) Church's development of meridiana, calendars, telescopes, and adjustments thereof.
This book also covers in detail both the suppression and then acceptance of the heliocentric view of the world, and the final acceptance of Copernicus' and Galileo's views on the matter. We learn that the Church didn't exonerate Galileo officially until 1992 - and that Galileo is actually scheduled for sainthood sometime in the next century.
It covers in fascinating detail the players, their history, and developments and errors of these early astronomers.
Another thing that I found most interesting about this book is the history of the Church and cathedrals as institutions of education and science. The Church had a huge influence in the development of science post 1500s (post dark age). This is something that I'd heard of, but never seen outlined in this much detail. Those who argue for Church rather than science, or visa versa, are completely ignorant of these historical truths.
The drawbacks of this book, other than its technical presentation, is that Heilbron does seem to gloss over some of the less rosy history of the Church. He also avoids - circumnavigates - discussions of the sun as a possible axis of the Church's worship. This is something that's been well written about, but is only alluded to in some of the quotes in this book if we read between the lines. Heilbron also seems to have a propensity to play down some of this horrific history of the Church, as well as many of the orders he mentions, and quickly moves on to the next topic. This book, however, is about astronomy, and not about the hideousness of the orders of the Church and its history.
Be prepared to buckle down and learn something! This is Harvard level reading.
Overall, 5 stars!
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