Understanding the Kingdom of Heaven

by catcher Wednesday, November 27, 2013 1:36 AM

The Story of Father Pietro Angelo Secchi: Jesuit Priest & God's Astronomer



Pope Francis I

On the 13th of March 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio (1936-) became Pope Francis I, and thus began his reign as the Bishop of Rome and head of the Roman Catholic Church - a man known, like the Saint whose name he takes for his humility and his wish to help the poor and afflicted of all faiths.


His election as the ‘Servant of the Servants of God’ marked a number of firsts for the Papacy - the First Pope to be named Francis (after Saint Francis of Assisi), the first from the Americas, the first from the Southern Hemisphere, but most important of all the First Jesuit - the ‘Soldiers of God’ who for the past five centuries have been responsible for the teaching of Science and its relationship to the Kingdom of God, both on Earth and in Heaven, but strictly according to the accepted doctrines of the Church they served.


The Roman Catholic Church has always kept a close eye on the heavens, but an even closer one, on the astronomers who studied it:

“I, Galileo, being in my seventieth year, being a prisoner and on my knees, and before your Eminences, having before my eyes the Holy Gospel, which I touch with my hands, abjure, curse, and detest the error and the heresy of the movement of the earth.”

In these words the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) had recanted his belief that the Earth revolved around the Sun, and avowed now that the Earth was indeed the centre of the Kingdom of Heaven. It was the year 1633 and nothing could move the Catholic Church away from the view that God’s Universe was perfect and without flaws. The Earth did not move; there were no spots on the surface of the Sun or craters on the Moon; and almost certainly no dark lines could be seen emanating from the stars. Galileo renouncing what he knew to be true in his heart, was exiled to his villa at Arcetri near Florence in 1634, where he spent the remainder of his life under house arrest.

In 1818 there was born a man who in later life would see all of these things, including the dark lines in the spectral rainbows of the stars. What is remarkable is that his name was Father Pietro Angelo Secchi, a Jesuit Priest; and a firm believer in both his church, and a heaven based on science, not on what his religion wanted it to be. In 1877 Secchi published the results of his great study of 4000 fixed stars, in which he argued that all stars could be classified according their chemical nature as exhibited by the various dark lines found in the ‘rainbow’ of their spectra. Furthermore this classification could be achieved by using only five spectral types. These later became known as ‘Secchi Classes’.

The pioneering work of Secchi in the Spectral Classification of Stars, ultimately led to the Harvard Observatory’s Classification as developed by Williamina Fleming, Antonia Maury and Annie Jump Cannon in the 1890s and early 1900s. This in turn formed the basis of the currently accepted Morgan-Keenan system.

The accurate classification of stars according to the characteristics of their spectra was the start needed by others to begin the process of understanding their structure and evolution, from the moment of their birth among vast clouds of gas and dust, to an end which produces white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes - bodies as strange as they are unbelievable.

Father Secchi lived a contented life within the embrace of his venerated Catholic Church and his beloved Pope, but at the same time conducting astronomical research into the very nature of a ‘flawed’ universe. Yet two centuries earlier this very same research would have condemned him to exile or even death. How could this be? How did Pietro Angelo Secchi on his death in 1878 enter the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ with the full blessing of the Holy Catholic Church, as both Jesuit and Astronomer?

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'Catchers Tales'

A True Downton Abbey Tale

by catcher Wednesday, November 6, 2013 2:38 AM

'Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction'

The British television drama – ‘Downton Abbey’ is one of the most popular series ever produced and has a worldwide following of millions of viewers, glued to their TVs, DVD players, PCs, Laptops and  iPads eagerly awaiting the latest exploits of its characters – with their tales of love, death, war and the like, yet it is still a work of fiction or is it?

Is there a real ‘Downton’? - with as much drama or even more? Yes there is. The great American writer Mark Twain once wrote ‘truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't’ – and so it is with ‘Downton’.

Let us tell the story in brief of ‘The Leviathan Lord of Birr Castle’ – a True Tale of a Real DOWNTON ABBEY - all set amid a fairy tale Irish Castle.

The Story So Far...

It is1836 - William Parsons, born of an ancient Irish line, had the duty and obligation to preserve it - firstly by providing a male heir and not least to obtain the not inconsiderable monies necessary to maintain, and if possible add to the family’s landed estates. This he achieved in the time honoured fashion of marrying a rich heiress; preferably one whose father was dead (or soon to be), and thus gaining immediate control of her wealth. The question of love did not warrant even the slightest consideration.”

Sound familiar?

The Cast:

Laurence Parsons - 2nd Earl of Rosse

The current Earl, anxious that his eldest son should marry well, and continue the ancestral line with sufficient funds to maintain its great castle, its lands and all the other houses possessed by the family. Yet he was worried, his heir was now in his mid-thirties and unmarried; and he was approaching eighty years old – and might not live for much longer. His second son was also unmarried, and his third son was already dead. His two daughters were also approaching the status of unwed maids – he was deeply troubled!

Alice Lloyd, 2nd Countess of Rosse

His countess, born of a ‘good and respectable’ family was also anxious about the marital status of her four surviving children. What could she do? – But to turn to England the place of her son’s birth, for a suitable bride and definitely one with a very large inheritance!

William Parsons, Lord Oxmantown – eldest son & heir apparent

He like his father was troubled not by the thought of marriage, but by more heavenly pursuits and in particular how to build a great telescope to ’afford us some insight into the construction of the material universe’. However, he was down to Earth enough to realise that his ambitions and those of his father had one important thing in common – the need for money and lots of it!


Laurence Parsons, 2nd Son

He was the ‘spare’ just in case his brother died and cold not inherit. He had to marry well too!

John Wilmer Field, Lord of the Manor

Born into a landowning family and a former Royal Horse Guards Officer, who owned a large swathe of Yorkshire and a house to match, he was looking out for suitable husbands for his two young daughters.

Mary Field, eldest daughter and co-heiress

Her inheritance was valued in the tens of millions of pounds in today’s money and included the valuable Manors of Heaton and Shipley, and the family home and farms. She was an ideal bride for William Parsons, but would he grow to love her? They married on the 14th April 1836 at the Parish Church of St. George’s Hanover Square in one of London’s wealthiest areas.

Delia Field, youngest daughter and co-heiress

She too was in search of a suitable husband to take control of her millions – would Laurence Parsons, the Earl’s second son be the one – or would her father find her someone better? – Perhaps the son of an already wealthy English Baron, destined for an illustrious career in the Navy.

Future Episodes

Death of the Earl, a Dowager Countess, Inheritance, a Great Love Affair; Nine Great Tragedies; an elopement to Gretna Green; Unlocking the Secrets of the Universe; a Great Potato Famine; a future Earl goes to the First World War; a murder at the races; and much much more – all set against the backdrop of a fairy tale castle in Ireland. AND ALL TRUE!

Watch This Blog!

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Stefan Hughes began his career as a professional astronomer, gaining a 1st Class Honours degree in Astronomy from the University of Leicester in 1974 and his PhD four years later on the 'Resonance Orbits of Artificial Satellites due to Lunisolar Perturbations', which was published as a series of papers in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. After graduating he became a Research fellow in Astronomy, followed by a spell as a lecturer in Applied Mathematics at Queen Mary College, London. Then came a ten year long career as an IT Consultant. In 'mid life' he spent several years retraining as a Genealogist, Record Agent and Architectural Historian, which he practiced for a number of years before moving to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, where for the past ten years he has been imaging the heavens, as well as researching and writing the 'Catchers of the Light' - A History of Astrophotography.