“It Still Moves”
One doesn’t have to study the history of science very long before one learns of the Roman Catholic Church’s persecution of Galileo when he publicly declared that the Earth revolves about the sun. However, the Church of that day was not as ignorant as we have been led to believe. In fact, many churches of Rome in Galileo’s day had long had their own astronomical observatories.
On the practical side, the Church of Rome had a great need to keep its liturgical calendar accurate, since many important church festivals, like Easter, depend on the phases of the moon. It is not generally known that the circular pavement in front of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is actually the largest sundial in the world. The church of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs has an intricate brass sundial 144 feet long that tells both the date and the time. The roof of St. Ignatius in Rome houses the observatory where Angelo Secchi, the father of astrophysics, discovered a dark spot on Mars called Syrtis Major. Galileo’s final words of protest when placed under house arrest – “and it still moves” – are inscribed on the sundial at Collegio Romano where the Pope asked his astronomers to confirm Galileo’s conclusions.
Despite some errors in judgment, which are common to man, Christians have always valued accurate knowledge about God’s creation.