Friday, June 29, 2018

Ferdinand Verbiest


Belgium/China 1623-1688


Ferdinand Verbiest was born in what is now Belgium in 1623 and joined the Jesuit order at age 18. (2) He was ordained in 1655. (10) Originally he wanted to go to South America, but was called to China because of Adam Schall von Bell. (7) He was 35 at the time. After preliminary work in the rural areas, Verbiest was summoned to Beijing to assist Johann Adam Schall von Bell with astronomy. By the time he arrived Beijing, the other Jesuits were imprisoned. Verbiest‘s attempts to free the Jesuits were of no avail and he joined them in the terrible conditions. (1, 7)

However an earthquake struck the wing of the palace where they were to be executed so in 1668 Emperor K’ang Hsi (also known as Kangxi), organized a contest of skill between Verbiest and the Mandarin who had started the persecution. (2, 4, 7) The contest was composed of three parts: to determine the shadow on a sundial on a given day, when a lunar eclipse was to take place, and the location of various planets on a specified date. (2) The losing astronomer was exiled and Verbiest became the President of the Bureau of Mathematics. This new position afforded him an excellent ability to influence the Emperor and the persecution ceased.

Verbiest won both the contest and the favor of the emperor. 
He was assigned the board of Mathematics and made a very bold demand; the ‘Perpetual Calendar of the Kangxi Emperor’ must be altered! (7) This was unthinkable. Not only did millions of people use the official calendar, but the emperor himself had approved it! (1) Furthermore, this was no quibbling change, Verbiest wanted to remove an entire month! The officials pleaded with Verbiest to change his futile course of action, but he replied that “It is not within my power to make the heavens to agree with your calendar.” (1)

It was changed. 

The emperor liked him and learned whatever Verbiest could teach him. Verbiest translated 
six books of Euclid into Manchu, and taught geometry, philosophy and music. The Emperor made Verbiest the highest level of Mandarin, included him on journeys across the Empire and allowed him to preach Christianity. (1) In his efforts to fit in, Verbiest studied Machu and Chinese and took a Chinese name, Nan Huairen. (7)

Being a missionary was Verbiest’s entire purpose for being in China so he leapt at the opportunity and included Christianity whenever he could. (1) Verbiest worked so diligently at his posts because he hoped he could thereby convince the Emperor to become Catholic. (4) Unfortunately this did not occur. Verbiest’s position allowed him much greater influence however, and he was able to reach much farther with his writing and preaching than his fellows as a result. (4) He soon became involved in essentially every project, including the creation of 132 advanced and modern cannon for use by the Imperial Army to stop a rebellion. Verbiest also designed a new type of gun carriage. (1, 4)

Verbiest continued his astronomical work by assembling a table of eclipses, lunar and solar, for the next two thousand years. The emperor was overjoyed with the wondrous progress and promptly made Verbiest in charge of the Imperial Astronomy Observatory. (1)

This post was challenging because the structure had been finished in 1279 and so its instruments were extremely… obsolete. Between about 1669 and 1674, Verbiest faced this challenge by assembling a team of master metalworking artisans to make designs imported from Europe. The final instruments were precise enough to measure fifteen seconds, or a nine hundredth of a single degree. (4, 7)
Verbiest documented his work in a 1674 manuscript titled ‘Disclosure on the Newly-Built Astronomical Instruments in the Observatory’ in which he described the design and function of the instruments very precisely so they could be reproduced. It was such detail that for the six instruments he created it took 16 volumes to contain his descriptions. (7)
He created two separate versions of an armillary sphere, an altazimuth, a quadrant, a sextant, celestial globe. These instruments were then put atop the observatory. It may seem rather odd that such a small amount of instruments could take sixteen volumes to describe. (7) One reason for this apparent oddity is the size of the instrumentation. Each was six feet or more in diameter so they were at least the height of a man, and intricately detailed, including multiple dragons per instrument. (4, 7)


Verbiest created a steam engine for ships, designed pumps, built an aqueduct, created numerous maps, and thirty books. His books covered astronomy, Chinese grammar, and he translated a missal into Chinese as well as producing a Chinese book to explain Christianity in simple terms. (1) 

Verbiest also designed the first car. It was slightly over two feet long and powered by steam, but the idea of having a self-propelling machine was present. (9) The machine carried a contained or water over a bed of coals and the steam was directed at a turbine which provided the power for it to move. (9) Whether it was actually built is an open question, but the designs were completed. 


He was also able to simplify Chinese geometry by reducing the number of degrees in a circle from 365.25 to 360. (7) He was put in charge of public works, assisted China in negotiating their border with Russia, and even sent a missal translated to Chinese to the Pope as evidence of his mission. (2)

The Pope sent him a letter congratulating him for his work, and in 1677 Verbiest was appointed head of all Jesuits in China. (4) He recognized the great opportunities open, but also the desperate need for more priests. He urged missionaries to come from Europe, but also looked to China so that the Chinese could be reached by their own countrymen. (4)

One of the particular needs for Chinese priests was the ability to use Chinese instead of Latin, but Verbiest was not able to obtain this permission. Instead, a few more Jesuits were sent from France. Verbiest used his influence to admit the group to Beijing as swiftly as possible, though he sadly died before they arrived. (4) The emperor delayed the funeral so that the Jesuits could attend and Verbiest was buried next to Ricci and Schall. (1) The emperor was so impressed with Verbiest’s work he bestowed a posthumous name, an honor normally associated with former emperors. (10)

Another of Verbiest’s masterpieces was his 1674 world map. Each of the eight sections was 5.8 foot by 1.77 foot sections. (6) The Verbiest map was part of a larger geographical work, ‘Illustrated Discussion of the Geography of the World.’ (5) (An amazing interactive version of Verbiest’s map here: http://verbiest.asianart.org)



The world map was quite marvelous. Besides the map itself, Verbiest included all sorts of secondary details to enhance the appearance or usefulness. The entire map bears signs of diligent craftsmanship from the oceans of carefully crafted waves to the intricate illustrations of animals. (3) Verbiest included a variety of fantastic animals, from the mighty unicorn to the humble beaver. (3) Each animal featured a short encyclopedic entry next to it. In fact, nearly all of the map was filled with annotations of one kind of another. Verbiest placed fourteen major essays around the exterior of the map to explain various high-level concepts including astronomy, humanity and morals, the ‘four’ elements, earthquakes. (3)

Verbiest also included whatever details he knew of the countries around the world and the inhabitants therein. (3) While there are some incorrect details, such as the cause of earthquakes, the inclusion of unicorns as real animals, and the portrayal of California as an island, the scale of the map is incredible. The entire map is filled with annotations in Chinese and Antarctica in particular is sprinkled with animal images and descriptions. (3)

Verbiest had converted many respected people including mandarins, princes, and scholars. Between his work and the other Jesuit missionaries, there were 800,000 Catholics in China when he died. (1) 



An Armillary Sphere in Action (8)


Works Referenced

  1. Fr. Ferdinand Verbiest, S. J. (1623-1688) a Jesuit scientist in China http://www.faculty.fairfield.edu/jmac/sj/scientists/verbiest.htm 
  2. Ferdinand Verbiest http://ricci.bc.edu/people/ferdinand-verbiest.html 
  3. A Complete Map of the World, 1674 http://verbiest.asianart.org 
  4. Ferdinand Verbiest http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15346a.htm 
  5. Verbiest Map https://www.gla.ac.uk/hunterian/collections/collectionsummaries/archaeologyandworldcultures/worldcultures/verbiestmap/ 
  6. Matteo Ricci World Map http://www.myoldmaps.com/renaissance-maps-1490-1800/441-ricci.pdf 
  7. Ferdinand Verbiest [sic] (1562-1633) http://hua.umf.maine.edu/China/astronomy/tianpage/0029Verbiest9284crw.html
  8. Armillary Sphere animation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0chCdFEaP0 
  9. The First Automobile of Any Type Was Built By This Flemish Priest In China https://jalopnik.com/the-first-automobile-of-any-type-was-built-by-this-flem-452218957 
  10. Ferdinand Verbiest: Early Visionary of Auto-motion http://www.autoviva.com/news/ferdinand_verbiest_early_visionary_of_auto_motion/575

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Father Benito Viñes




Spain/Cuba 1837-1893

Father Benito Viñes was a Jesuit famous for his meteorological work in Cuba. He came to Cuba to direct the Jesuit Meteorological Observatory of the College of Belén, but became famous for creating created the first system to accurately predict hurricanes. He became known as “Father Hurricane” and “Founder of Tropical Meteorology.” (2, 3)

The former director of the Observatory after getting financial backing to upgrade the Cuban Observatory had left for France… only for the ten-year Cuban uprising to start. He never actually returned to Cuba, though he did continue to publish papers on cloud structure and hurricanes. (5)

Fr. Viñes, on the other hand was experiencing the 1868 revolution in Spain that sparked the Cuban revolution, so he left for France and was ordained. He was then assigned to Cuba to the Observatory at the College of Benén in Havana. (5) Fr. Viñes arrived at the Cuban Observatory in 1870 and before the year was out, a hurricane arrived and ripped the metal roof off of his observatory. (4, 5) After this harrowing experience, and because of hurricanes’ effects on the populace, Fr. Viñes dedicated his life to understanding the patterns of hurricanes. (4, 7) Cuba was a useful post for this mission because of the frequency of storms passing through the Gulf. (5) He looked everywhere he could to understand hurricanes: books, newspapers, the ocean levels, previous storm paths, and hurricanes themselves. (4) He kept notes on anything to help him in his quest; clouds, conversations with ship captains, telegraphs, and newspapers. (5)

Eventually, Fr. Viñes decided he needed to a network of observers to gather more data including sailors and reporters. The network reported to him by telegraph, and he shared the data he gathered with other weather watching organizations. (4)  Fr. Viñes took exhaustive measurements; ten observations daily including, though not limited to, barometer readings, evaporation levels, rainfall amount, wind speed,and cloud formation. (1)

However, over the next five years no seriously threatening hurricanes arrived. By then, he was ready. On September 8th, 1875, Fr. Viñes received telegraph reports through the Spanish navy that a hurricane had made landfall at Puerto Rico. (4, 5) He published a forecast in the newspaper and warned ships not to sail north or east out of Havana so they wouldn’t sail straight into a hurricane. (4) The only American ship that ignored the warning sailed into the hurricane and all the crew perished, though no Cuban passengers were aboard. (5)

In 1876, based solely on his own measurements, Fr. Viñes predicted an incoming hurricane two days before it made landfall. (5) This success gave Fr. Viñes the fame he needed to acquire a series of tours across the affected areas in Cuba, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico over the 1876-1877 winter. (5) His interviews with the victims and observation of the physical evidence afforded him enough information to publish his first book describing hurricanes. It was published in English as “Practical Hints in Regard to West Indian Hurricanes” by the US Army (3) While only fifteen pages long, it contains a wealth of information and practical advice regarding identification of an approaching hurricane and how to navigate away from it. (10) 

He also distilled his extensive knowledge of hurricane detection into a device known either as an ‘inner phase cyclonoscope’ or an ‘antilles cyclonoscope.’ which assists meteorologists in locating the eye of a hurricane (2, 4, 7) The cyclonoscope was somewhat like a slide rule and was composed of two cards. Based on cloud and wind observations at the meteorologist’s site, the inner card could be rotated and the direction of the hurricane’s center could be determined. (7, 11) This simple tool simplified his years of observation and experience into essentially a hurricane calculator.

Fr. Viñes started exploring the possibility of assembling a network of amateur storm contacts by telegraph to expand his data before the 1876 season had ended, enlisting the aid of the Spanish Navy’s observations through various contacts including Cuban railroad operators, US Army signal corps operators. (5) Fr. Viñes also contacted a Spanish Jesuit in charge of the Manila observatory and inspired him to start issuing hurricane warnings in the Philippines. (5) The Filipino contact network even outlasted and outperformed Fr. Viñes’ significant efforts. 

Fr. Viñes traveled to England in 1882 to acquire more sophisticated observation equipment and the head of the Jesuit Observatory at Stonyhurst, Stephen Perry, personally trained Fr. Viñes and calibrated the equipment. (5) Later that year, Fr. Viñes also observed the transit of Venus. (5)

After a tremendously destructive hurricane season in 1886, Fr. Viñes finally got his wish to have a warning network that stretched across the Caribbean. In 1887, the Cuban Chamber of Commerce pitched in, creating a telegraphic network which included Spanish, British, French, Venezuelan, and Dominican lands, among others. Additionally, they placed the entire network at Fr. Viñes’ disposal. (5) Telegraph, railroad, and steamship companies were willing to offer their service for free to assist his lifesaving ventures. (8) Fr. Viñes was able to use his telegraph network to send warnings out across the Caribbean when he found a storm was approaching. (7)

The US foremost expert on hurricanes, Everett Hayden, traveled to Cuba to learn from Fr. Viñes and Hayden later mentioned Fr. Viñes’ work several times in his book, ‘The Modern Law of Storms’ (5, 6) The ‘Law of Storms’ that preceded Hayden’s book, attempted to predict storm behaviour, including hurricanes, by using winds at sea level. (12) Fr. Viñes’ criticized this theory as far too simplistic in his final work: ‘Investigation of Cyclonic Circulation and the Transitory Movement of West Indian Hurricanes’. Rather than seeing the complex structure and variation in wind direction and speed at different altitudes, it assumes that the wind at sea level is indicative of the entire structure. Fr. Viñes’ theory includes wind and cloud throughout the cloud to create a three dimensional understanding of hurricane structure. (9) 

The 35 page ‘Investigation of Cyclonic Circulation and the Transitory Movement of West Indian Hurricanes’ was finished two days before he died and contained of Fr. Vines’ rules for predicting hurricanes. It noted intricacies such as how hurricane season operates on a a sort of mirrored schedule so the first week of June ramps up around the same rate as the end of October ramps down. (9) 

To pull a couple of examples, cirrus clouds were useful as a first indicator of a hurricane’s location because they “fired out from the center of the hurricane.” (2) The color and type of clouds also helped him determine where the hurricane was located. (5)

The most difficult piece to accurately predict was the “law of recurvature” which came about as a result of the general tendency of hurricanes to head west and then turn to the northeast after a period. Many hurricanes followed this rule, but a significant portion failed to follow this idea, with one actually turning south instead of north. (5, 6)

That being said, his theory was a tremendous leap forward for storm prediction . After his death and with the US occupation after the Spanish-American War, the Caribbean network of storm observers no longer answered to the head of the Belén College so the new director was unable to issue a hurricane warning for a 1900 cyclone. The storm made landfall in Galveston on September 8th as predicted by Fr. Viñes’ theories and because of the lack of warning, it became the deadliest hurricane in US history. (5)

Before Fr. Viñes, there was no way to forecasting hurricanes. Through careful observation and study he created a new field, enlisted the help of hundreds of others, and helped save thousands of lives.In addition to his two books, Fr. Viñes wrote various articles on the subject of hurricanes that illuminated hurricane structure and motion. (4) Fr. Viñes was so influential that for a while, Hurricanes were just ‘Viñesa’ followed by a number, in honor of his work. Sadly, this didn’t last and his name has fallen into unwarranted obscurity. (2) 

Works Referenced

  1. Father Benito Viñes: The 19th Century Life and Contributions of a Cuban Hurricane Observer and Scientist by Luis E. Ramos Guadalupe (review) https://muse.jhu.edu/article/640782 
  2. Father Hurricane: A genius of meteorology  https://www.miamiarch.org/CatholicDiocese.php?op=Article_131017125417303 
  3. The Legacy of Fr Benito Vines http://www.actforlibraries.org/the-legacy-of-fr-benito-vines/ 
  4. 140th Anniversary of first hurricane forecast https://noaahrd.wordpress.com/2015/09/15/140th-anniversary-of-first-hurricane-forecast/ 
  5. Viñes Martorell, Carlos Benito José https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/vines-martorell-carlos-benito-jose 
  6. The Modern Law of Storms https://books.google.com/books?id=5BLkVqGRrg8C&pg=PA181&lpg=PA181&dq 
  7. The Hurricane Man in Havana https://www.irishtimes.com/news/the-hurricane-man-in-havana-1.112176 
  8. Hurricanes: A Reference Handbook https://books.google.com/books?id=aJz0y__JHsYC&pg=PA228&lpg=PA228&dq
  9. Investigation of Cyclonic Circulation and the Transitory Movement of West Indian Hurricanes https://books.google.com/books/about/Investigation_of_the_Cyclonic_Circulatio.html?id=Tt4lAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=kp_read_button#v=onepage&q&f=false 
  10. Practical Hints in Regard to West Indian Hurricanes https://books.google.com/books?id=F8oOAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false 
  11. The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia https://books.google.com/books?id=oiFJAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA1423&lpg=PA1423&dq=
  12. The Law of Storms https://www.gutenberg.org/files/55774/55774-h/55774-h.htm 


Monday, June 25, 2018

Juan Ignacio Molina

Chile 1740-1829


Juan Ignacio Molina was born in Chile in 1740 and was entered into the Jesuit Order when he was fifteen, though he was not a full Jesuit for the next eighteen years while he completed his training. He learned a variety of subjects, scientific and philosophical, and gained fluency in five languages: Spanish, Greek, Latin, Italian, French. (2) Additionally, Molina was a poet. A particularly notable poem, written in Latin and titled ‘Latin Elegies’ detailed his debilitating experience of smallpox. (2, 8) He was a teacher for a few years, though his talent was too great to solely be a teacher and he was reassigned to studying theology. (4) Throughout his scholastic career he shifted through the various towns of Chile, becoming a professor and librarian in the Jesuit’s Santiago station, capital of Chile. (4)

However, in 1767 all the Jesuits were exiled from Chile by order of the Spanish King, Carlos III (4) The Jesuits were exiled because of how they had hindered the colonizing efforts of various European powers. (7) Therefore, at age twenty-seven Molina and his fellow Jesuits were thrust into Europe. However, their journey was not quite direct. First, the Jesuits had to travel to Peru, then over the Atlantic Ocean. When he was exiled from Chile, he had to go to Peru first, then travel over the Atlantic to reach Europe. (9) Even during his exile to Europe, Molina continued note the wildlife around him, observing flying fish and whales. (9) Their journey did not end in Spain, the home country of the Jesuits, because other exiles had already filled their doors. Instead, Molina and the other Jesuits journeyed to Imola, Italy, a small town near Bologna. (4) 

Upon their arrival in Italy, in 1769, the Jesuits were first settled in Imola, a small town near Bologna. Immediately, Molina’s knowledge served him well as he was able to talk to the Italian governor and discuss natural history, a topic which fascinated the governor. (9) 

Eventually, Molina moved to the nearby city of Bologna and became the chair of Greek at the University of Bologna. Eventually, he became a professor of natural sciences, the work for which he is best known. (2) Molina was the first American member of Italian Institute of Science and Arts (2). He continued to study and teach, slowly making his way to official membership in the order. He finally passed the necessary exams and became a full member of the Jesuit order on August 15th, feast of the Assumption, 1773, at thirty-three years of age. (4) 

Then on August 25th, the Pope published the order to suppress the Jesuits and Molina was forced to leave the order, after mere ten days. (4) Nearly all the European nations had gotten tired of Jesuits resisting their wishes and pressured the Pope. Clement XIV, into suppressing the order outright. All Jesuits had to officially leave the order, though some former Jesuits were highly regarded. (7) Russia was the only exception to the suppression order and became the only country where the Jesuit order remained, preferring to have the Jesuits around to revitalize their educational system. (7)

Molina would remain in Italy for the rest of his life. It was here that he began publishing scientific works, all of which were in Italian. (3) The first was the ‘Compendium of the Geographical, Natural, and Civil History of the Kingdom of Chile’ which explained a variety of aspects of Chile from its geography animal life to historical and anthropological elements. (2, 5, 6) The work is divided among three parts, Geography, Natural History, and Civil History. (6). The geographic discussion included the approximate size of the country, the basic political division and some geological information. (5) Natural History was a catchall term for several pursuits including botany and zoology, but essentially means biology. The Civil History section detailed the history of Chile from a cultural perspective, how Chile came to be. 

Molina was a very thorough writer, trying to communicate information as swiftly and succinctly as possible, and used extensive footnote asides to achieve his aims. By necessity, this work was assembled from suboptimal sources; Molina’s manuscript had been detained at a ship in Peru, where the Jesuits had traveled before journeying to Europe. (2. 9)

In 1774, Molina moved to Bologna and started teaching at a school that taught a significant portion of the poorer students for free. (9) However, between widespread misinformation surrounding America, and his own nostalgia, Molina decided to write a book to explain Chile to Europe. (9) 

Molina’s first attempt was the ‘Compendium of the Geographical, Natural, and Civil History of the Kingdom of Chile,’ a work divided into two parts and published in 1776. (9) The first dealt with the geography of Chile, its mountains, its size, the landscape and so on; the second part explained the culture of Chile’s native and Spanish populations. (9)  The timing was excellent: interest in America had increased significantly because of the American Revolution, and Molina’s work provided insight into a portion of the New World. (9)

It was successful, but the sources were not as comprehensive as Molina wished; the majority of Molina’s meticulous notes had been taken by customs agents when left Chile. After some years, he acquired his notes, and started again. He was so dedicated to providing a superior source that he published this second volume at his own expense in 1784. It was entitled ‘Essay on the Natural History of Chile.’ (9) The ‘Essay on Natural History’ was more detailed than its predecessor, included a newer map, and was divided into four books. Molina aimed to use this book to prove the similarities between the New World and the Old, starting with a direct comparison in the introduction. (9) The ‘Essay on Natural History’ was extremely successful and translated into German, Spanish, French, and English. (2)

Molina’s writing was crucial because of its ability to dispel common myths of the time regarding America. Oftentimes, writers never actually had gone to America and were just making details up out of whole cloth. (9) Molina’s detailed and scientifically accurate work was a revolutionary take on America. Also, America was in a revolution at the time which generated significant interest in the American continent. (9)

Book One covered the geographical, climate, and natural disasters common in Chile, and Molina again made comparison to Italy. (9) One particular piece of misinformation Molina tried to correct was the notion that a 1751 earthquake had destroyed a city and redirected a river. (9) In reality, there were actually no casualties, in part because of a series of shocks before the main disaster. Molina continued this geological discussion, and used his own experience and observations to explain events, an attitude that distinguished him as a scientist. (9)

The Second Book examined the mineral aspect of Chile including rivers, lakes, rocks and soil. (9) As part of this section, Molina looked at the mining industry and agriculture. For one, Molina describes in detail the process of acquiring gold, from mining the ore to processing it at the foundry. (9) Molina also writes about geography in this section, noting the presence of various marine caves in Chile. (9)

Books Three and Four changed the focus from geographic and geological to biological. (9) Here, Molina explored the flora and fauna of Chile and organized them according to Linnaeus’ system. (3) He also wrote wrote about crops, general vegetation in the area, herbs, and the wine of Chile as compared to Italian wine. (9) Book Four was concerned with animals of all kinds whether in the sea, the air, or on the land. Molina also described the culture of Chile once again. (9)

Molina finished the book with two catalogs. The first listed all the new species he had described, even including rocks and minerals, according to Linnaeus’ classification. The second catalog was a glossary of various words particular to natural sciences at the time. (9) Even though it was a nostalgic work, it was very clearly of scientific value. 

Molina continued as a professor of natural history in Bologna, though he contributed a last influential volume during this time. This volume, titled Memories on Natural History, was a collection of fourteen ‘memories,’ lectures Molina delivered from 1805 to 1815. (9)

  1. Study of thermal springs 
  2. Physical and Mineral Study of the Bologna Mountains 
  3. On the Cultivation of Olives 
  4. On Marls 
  5. Coffee 
  6. ‘Less Noticed Analogies of the Three Kingdoms of Nature’
  7. Gardens in Towns (green cities)
  8. Whales in the South
  9. Growing Trees
  10. On Coal
  11. Peru’s Mountain of Silver
  12. ‘On the Propagation of the Human Race in Different Parts of the World’
  13. Cocoa, Vanilla, and Canela
  14. Sugar

The sixth was the most controversial, though the twelfth is also particularly noteworthy. (9) Overall, his lectures demonstrate an extensive grasp of scientific knowledge, but can mainly by split into two categories: geology and biology. (9) Lectures 1, 2, 10, and 11 deal with geology and mineralogy while lectures 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, and 14 deal principally with biology and agriculture.

Agriculture and environmentalism were a significant topic among these lectures; four of the fourteen were dedicated to the subject in various forms.The first lecture on the subject [#3] discussed the possibility of growing olives in the area around Bologna. Then, Molina discussed marls in #4, a type of calcium rich mud and its possible application as fertilizer. (9) He drew on his geological knowledge to explain the two varieties, marine volcanic and outcropper. He exposited why volcanic was the inferior option, and how to test for the ratio of clay to calcium carbonate. He recommended marls as fertilizer particularly in acidic soils, because of the presence of the basic calcium carbonate, and argued England already was using marls as fertilizer. Molina even had samples on hand for after the lecture. (9)
Molina was well-known for his knowledge of Agriculture and was given honorary membership of the Academia Private dei Georgofili in 1817 as a result. His seventh lecture was on the subject of enhancing the greenery in cities, again arguing England had already introduced this to their cities. Molina closed the lecture by discussing various types of trees present in the area near Bologna. The ninth lecture continued in that same vein by discussing the possibility, or necessity, of regrowing trees. (9)

His eighth lecture, Whales in the South, would be an environmental topic today, but at the time it was simply another scientific lecture. Molina set out to prove that European scientists were wrong about Chile and that whales actually existed in that region of the world. Discussed the methods of whale-hunting. (9) Molina also discussed various exoctic plants and possible health hazards. Specifically: Coffee [#5], Vanilla and other spices [#13], and Sugar [#14]. He also covered the coffee plant and how the drink was prepared in various places. Molina also brought up an example of fatal coffee overdosage. (9) Vanilla and other spices were commonly assumed to have health benefits, though these spices could pose a health hazard. He also talked about the widespread use of sugar and its health effects (9)

His sixth lecture was the one that merited the most controversy, however. He gave this lecture in three parts, and it was called ‘Less Noticed Analogies of the Three Kingdoms of Nature’ (9) It was delivered in 1815. Molina thought that the Three Kingdoms: Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, are interconnected. (9) He provided various evidence including the similarities between animal eggs and plant seeds, and the shape of crystals and plants’ fractal-like shapes. However, in discussing the widespread similarities, Molina unclearly used words so that it sounded as though he was attributing intelligence and reason to animals. (9) It could also be construed as an early version of evolution. (3)

This went against the philosophy of the time, the Great Chain of Being, which stated that everything exists in hierarchy in which God is at the summit and goes down to angels, men, animals, plants, and eventually matter in general. Each category has at least one superior attribute the category below lacks. (10) For example, Animals have existence, life, and a will, but not reason while humans have existence, life, a will and reason. (10) The categories are subdivided into further chains. For animals, the more rational-acting and noble a creature is, the higher it is on the chain, though still without reason. (10)

He was investigated for heresy and lost his teaching license. After years of investigation, he was finally acquitted, though his books were still reviewed and censored as deemed necessary. (9) Molina explained he had meant the words as an analogy, not literally. (9)

Rather than evolution however, Molina’s theory could be seen as reinforcing the preexisting philosophy of the ‘Great Chain of Being.’ Molina’s work fits well into this idea, and not as much into evolution. His work did not suggest that different categories of living things morphed from one to another, merely that they were connected more directly than previously assumed. (9, 10) Furthermore, Molina still believed everything was planned and created by God. (9)

Molina also wrote about the migration of humans to spread out across the Earth and argued they had crossed all manner of natural barriers, arguing humans did not just appear in Italy, as some people claimed at the time, but had travelled there. Molina also lectured on the settlement of America. He claimed that various parts of America were peopled at different times due to cultural differences. (9) The first humans appeared in America about a century after the biblical Great Flood, which was then believed to have been responsible for all fossils observed. (9) Later on, people like the Chilean natives came. Molina argued they arrived around the time Alexander the Great came to the Indus River because of the significant similarities to the Grecian and Asian culture. Molina also explained that people appear different because of their environment, not because they are actually that different. Humans at similar latitudes turned out completely differently given differing climates. (9)

The first, second, tenth, and eleventh memories were concerned with mineralogy and geology. (9) A smaller number of lectures perhaps, but still a significant portion of Molina’s work. None of these were so eye-catching as memories #6 or #12, just solid scientific work.

The first memory detailed his scientific expedition to thermal springs near Bologna where he conducted a geological analysis. He argues these springs could not have been created by volcanoes. It was too localized for seismological activities and lacked evidence for volcanic activity. (9) Instead, he argues that it was formed by flooding. The theory of diluvialism was quite popular at the time. Diluvialism was the idea that the Great Flood of Noah caused fossils. (9) In addition to his theories of how the mountains were formed, Molina returns to his favorite subject: the similarities between Chile and Italy. This time, the characteristics of volcanoes off the coast. (9)

The second memory was concerned with the allegation of the presence of gold, silver, and copper in the area, but Molina doubted the truth of these tales. (9) He argued ores similar in appearance, such as pyrite may have started these rumors, but they were definitely untrue. (9) He also discussed other materials like sandstone and gypsum, proposing his own theories and trying to correct misinformation. (9) The tenth memory was concerned with coal including how it was mined and used. (9) In the eleventh memory, Molina talked about Peru’s Mountain of Silver and its alleged existence. (9)

In 1798, the new king of Spain, Charles IV, allowed the former Jesuits to return to Chile. Molina decided not to; by that point, the political situation in Chile was volatile and Molina was in already almost sixty. (9) Only thirty-one Jesuits actually decided to return to Chile. (9)

Molina’s work is also notable because of the turbulent times in which he was writing. The Bologna Institute of Science had been pillaged in 1796 by the French, and Bologna’s scientific reputation was starting to fall by the wayside. (9) Napoleon was causing international strife for much of Molina’s publication career. (9)

In 1814, after the destruction wrought by the the French Revolution and Napoleon’s conquest, Pope Pius VII decided to reinstate the Jesuits officially so they could assist the rebuilding of Europe (7). Molina therefore, had the opportunity to return to to the Jesuit order, though he did not. He had maintained cordial relations with other exiled Jesuits. (1)

Molina had a bold style, often refuting the knowledge of the time when he had reason to believe it wrong . Knew what subjects he excelled in and worked tirelessly observing the natural world and theorizing based on his observations. He provided a fascinating look at Chile, applied his knowledge to a new land, kept his knowledge relevant by relating it to the local area, and tried to show how the Old World and New World were really all part of the same Earth. Molina wanted to connect things, to explain geology, the connections between species, how the human race spread across the globe and the mechanisms of agriculture. His areas of knowledge sounds small, but it turns out to be an almost all-encompassing study of nature.

When he was exiled from Chile, he did not protest, but just kept working as he went. No matter what challenges he faced, Molina decided not to complain. He turned his exile into a means of spreading knowledge of his country’s wonders, even at his own expense. All in all, a very accomplished naturalist and inspiring man.


Works Referenced
  1. Juan Ignacio Molina: The World’s Window on Chile (review) https://muse.jhu.edu/article/40584 
  2. The Abbot Juan Ignacio Molina (1740-1829) http://www.memoriachilena.cl/602/w3-article-590.html  
  3. Biography of Juan Ignacio Molina (1740-1829) http://thebiography.us/en/molina-juan-ignacio 
  4. Juan Ignacio Molina (Abate) http://www.profesorenlinea.cl/biografias/MolinaAbate.htm  
  5. The Natural History of Chile [excerpt] http://assets.cambridge.org/97811080/49450/excerpt/9781108049450_excerpt.pdf
  6. Table of Contents http://assets.cambridge.org/97811080/49450/toc/9781108049450_toc.pdf 
  7. The Suppression and Restoration of the Jesuits http://www.jesuit.org.uk/suppression-and-restoration-jesuits 
  8. Latin elegies http://www.memoriachilena.cl/602/w3-article-93509.html 
  9. The geological perspectives of the Abate Juan Ignacio Molina on Italy and Chile between the 18th and 19th centuries  http://www.scielo.org.ar/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0004-48222011000300017 
  10. Great Chain of Being http://faculty.grandview.edu/ssnyder/121/121%20great%20chain.htm

Matteo Ricci

Italy 1552-1610


Matteo Ricci was born Oct 6, 1552, in Italy. Ricci was an early missionary to China, when China did not look favorably on foreigners. However, by adopting their customs and knowledge of mathematics and astronomy he was able to preach about the Catholic faith.  

In 1571, Ricci entered the Society of Jesus, more commonly known as Jesuits. Ricci studied Philosophy, Theology, and learned from mathematics, cosmology and astronomy directly from Father Christopher Clavius. (1) In 1577, Ricci asked to be sent to the farthest reaches of Asia, and by March of the next year he had left for Goa. In 1580 Ricci was ordained, and by 1582 he was sent to Macau to prepare to enter China. (3) At Macau, Ricci spent a year of studying Mandarin and Chinese customs, and then was finally admitted to China.

In the sixteenth century the communities founded by the Nestorian missionaries in the seventh century and the monks in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries where no longer there, and the new missionaries had to deal with the Chinese suspicion of foreigners. (1) After the death of Saint Francis Xavier, in 1552, there were many fruitless attempts at missionary work, so around 1578 the method was changed. (1) 

Instead of trying to push western customs, and Latin in religious rites, the missionaries had to learn Mandarin (the main Chinese language), and the customs of the Chinese, this was to adapt to the Chinese,  get accepted into China, and stay there as to complete their missionary work. (3) Even though the missionaries were adapting to Chinese custom, there did not hid that they were Catholics or that they were priests. (1) The missionaries placed a pictures of the Virgin Mary holding the Infant Jesus in their homes to start conversations of Catholicism, and they brought many new items to the Chinese, such as clocks, paintings and maps that the Chinese had not seen, to appeal to the curiosity of the Chinese and show them the missionaries had interesting things to teach. (1)
Ricci settled in Zhaoqing (then a major city in Guangdong province). Rather than immediately trying to preach about Catholicism, he tried to win the hearts of the Chinese by continuing to learn their customs and living a good life. (3) Despite his initial caution in preaching Catholicism, he took the risk of publishing the first Catholic Catechism in Chinese, and made the first map of the world “Great Map of Ten Thousand Countries”, which showed China in relation to the rest of the world. (3) 

This was quite a new concept for the Chinese because their maps only featured a few European countries, and these cities were depicted as though they were extremely small compared to the grand Chinese achievements, groveling in the sea around China. (1) Naturally the Chinese were skeptical of the map, and how small a part China seemed to be. Over time, the missionaries were able to explain the process by which it was made and the attention to detail within it, and eventually, the Chinese accepted the map and had more printed in Chinese. (1) The map was an important perception shift for the Chinese as it showed they were not the center of the world and showed how the missionaries (and the rest of the world) had greater learning than the Chinese had supposed. Because of this the Chinese decided that the learning of these missionaries must not be ignored. (1) 
In 1589, Ricci travelled from Zhaoqing to Shaozhou (now Shaoguan). In Shazhou Ricci befriended a Confucian scholar, Qu Taisu, and Ricci taught Taisu the rudiments of Mathematics. In return, Taisu introduced Ricci to the upper class mandarin (high military or civil officials). (3) Taisu noted that Ricci’s habit looked similar to a buddhist monk, and suggested that he dress like the Chinese scholar instead. Ricci took the advice when he left Guangdong.  

Ricci tried to enter the imperial city of Beijing in 1595, but because of the  Sino-Japanese conflict in Korea all foreigners were considered suspect. (3) He left Beijing and traveled to Nanchang and then Nanjing. (3) During his stay at Nanchang, 1595 to 1598, he met two princes, and wrote his first book On Friendship. (3) In 1599, he moved to Nanjing and taught astronomy and geography. (3) In his book, History of the Introduction of Christianity in China, he commented on the effects of his work: The priests had great success teaching the Chinese of geography and astronomy because of their clear explanations.
The Jesuits were highly esteemed.The Chinese did not dare describe them as barbarian, though they would have called foreigners barbaric without a second thought. (3) Encouraged by the reception at Nanjing, Ricci once again to enter Beijing, and in 1601 he was finally admitted, accompanied by a Spanish Jesuit, Diego Pantoja. (3)  From then on he never left Beijing, and dedicated the rest of his life to the Chinese people, teaching them science and preaching the gospel. (3) 

His efforts to attract the Chinese intelligentsia lead him in contact with many outstanding personalities, including  Li Zhizao, Xu Guangqi, and Yang Tingyun who became known as the Three Pillars of the Early Catholic Church in China. (3) By the time Ricci died, he had converted 2,500 Chinese, many of whom were in the upper classes. (2) Feng Yingjing, a friend of Ricci’s, remarked that “[Ricci] treated the affairs of our fathers as if they were his own and our fathers in turn treated his as if they were ours.” (3) This attitude wonderfully sums up Ricci’s work in China. During Ricci’s time in Beijing he wrote several books in Chinese: The Secure Treatise on God (1603), The Twenty-five Words (1605), The First Six Books of Euclid (1607), and The Ten Paradoxes (1608). 

Works Referenced
  1. Matteo Ricci http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13034a.htm 
  2. Matteo Ricci, SJ (1552-1610) https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-voices/16th-and-17th-century-ignatian-voices/matteo-ricci-sj 
  3. Matteo Ricci https://www.britannica.com/biography/Matteo-Ricci 


Further Reading





Francesco Castracane Antelminelli

Italy 1817-1899

Francesco Castrance Antelminelli was born at Fano, Italy in 1817. He was educated at the Jesuits' school at Reggio nell'Emilia, and was ordained priest in 1840. Four years later he was made canon of the cathedral of Fano, and at the same time resumed his studies at the Collegio dei Nobili in Rome. In 1852, he resigned his canonry and took up his residence at Rome. Antelminelli had a love of nature, and during the latter half of his life he worked on biological research. He was one of the first people to introduce microphotography into biology. His first experiments with microphotography was in 1862 with diatomaceæ, microscope algae that use photosynthesis, and he later on made microorganisms his main study.

While investigating the structure, physiological functions and processes of reproduction of the diatomaceæ, Antelminelli not only valued the knowledge they revealed for themselves, but the relevance of this information of other studies, such as biology, geology and hydrography. The extensive collections of diatomaceæ that were collected by the Challenger Expedition were entrusted to him for description and classification. Among these diatomaceæ he discovered 3 new genera, 225 new species and thirty new varieties. As well as an enthusiastic investigator of science, he was a devout priest. He led a simple life, and continued his work to the end, saying mass on the day he died. Antelminelli published many papers mostly about Accademia dei Nuovi Lincei, over whose meetings he presided.

Works Referenced

  1. Francesco Castracane degli Antelminelli https://www.catholic.org/encyclopedia/view.php?id=2646


Léon Abel Provancher

Canada 1820-1892


Léon Abel Provancher was born in 1820, in Bécancour, about fifty miles from Quebéc City or Montreal. Provancher started the field of Canadian natural science (1); his interest in the natural sciences began when he saw a fossil shellfish discovered by workmen building a well. (2) As a boy, Provancher learned the names of a variety of plants. In 1834, he won a scholarship which allowed him to attend the Séminaire de Nicolet. Even at this age, his knowledge of horticulture was enough to regularly win prizes. (2) Provancher was ordained a priest at Quebec in 1844. For the next 4 years he moved from parish to parish as a curate.(2)

In 1848, he resumed his work in horticulture. His movement to the different parishes allowed him to investigate the flora and fauna of Canada.(2) In September 1854, Provancher became a parish priest at Saint-Joachim, where he stayed 8 years--much longer than at the previous other parishes.(2) He renovated Saint Joachim and attempted to find new sources of revenue.(2) In 1857 under the pseudonym of Émilien Dupont, he published Essai sur les insectes et les maladies qui affectent le blé. This book was written for a government-sponsored contest hoping to help solve the issue of hessian flies. Grain farmers had been afflicted by the flies since the flies arrived in the 1830s.(2) Provancher won third prize for his submission.(2)

“In 1858 he published Traité élémentaire de botanique . . . ; the first of its kind in Canada”.(2) “It was used in educational institutions for many years, until the publication of Louis-Ovide Brunet’s Éléments de botanique et de physiologie végétale . . . (Quebec, 1870) and Jean Moyen’s Cours élémentaire de botanique et Flore du Canada . . . (Montreal, 1871)”.(2) In 1861 Provancher met Brunet, a professor of botany at Université Laval, and collected plants with him throughout Canada. At this point, Provancher became interested in the insect parasites in his garden, and began to study entomology under William Couper. He was so intent on this he requested materials from from New York and Washington.

However, Provancher’s outspokenness caused offense to the priests at the Seminary of Québec and the parishioners of Saint-Joachim. After several reprimands, he was assigned to Notre-Dame-de-Portneuf in 1862. As in his previous parish, Provancher helped with finances and repairs of the church. He helped the community by working with the Franciscan Third Order, and created a fruit tree nursery as a model for farmers, among other things.(2) Provancher devoted his free time to entomology, established connections with Canadians and Americans who were well known in the field, and asked them to help him with his identification, and his difficult cases.(2) In 1862, Provancher published Le verger canadien, which means the Canadian orchard. This book contained the necessary information to grow a variety of plants in Lower Canada.(2)

Also in 1862, Provancher received a government grant and so he was able to publish a work on Canadian Flowers. (2) Provancher used information from various American writers, for which American botanist Asa Gray criticized Provancher (2) Most professional botanists followed Gray’s example, and so Flore canadienne was relegated to the French Canadian amateurs for 70 years.(2) In 1868 Provancher published Le Naturaliste canadien as a newspaper for for scientists to publish their findings, and so that amateurs would become interested in the study of nature. Provancher stated that he “intended to devote a good deal of space to entomology, but his magazine also served as a forum for his ideas on a host of other topics.”.(2)

However, once again, Provancher’s personality caused issues with his parishioners. In 1866 he attempted to find a different occupation. On the advice of the archbishop of Quebec, he submitted his resignation from parish work on September 17, 1869.(2) From there he settled at Saint-Roch in order to be with the main libraries and other naturalists. Provancher became bored with urban life, and moved to Cap-Rouge.(2) In 1888 he published La Semaine religieuse de Québec, mainy for the clergy.(2) Provancher made frequent trips within Canada, to the United States, Europe and the Holy Land, to which he organized and even attended.(1;2) At Cap Rouge Provancher spent most of his time on the natural sciences.(2) He left plant collecting in favor of being an entomologist, and people came to him for answers and encouragement. In 1874 Provancher began publishing “Petite faune entomologique du Canada. . . ,” an enormous project, which demonstrated his enthusiasm for the field. His text first appeared in Le Naturaliste canadien, and was later corrected and expanded. Ultimately, it became three volumes containing every known species in Canadian insect at the time. (2) The Petite faune long remained a work of value unequalled in the country.(2)

However, it was a particular subset of this work that was the most interesting. Specifically, his work on discovering and describing hymenoptera, an order of insects including wasps and bees, that Provencher that contributed most to the advancement of science.(2) Rather than combining information from other sources as he had done in the past, for this book he personally discovered and described over 1,000 previously unknown species of this order.(2) His contribution finally gave him lasting fame in the scientific world. His work was monumental, covering a tenth of the species of hymenoptera now known in Canada.


Works Referenced

  1. Léon Abel Provancher http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12505a.htm 
  2. Dictionary of Canadian Biography http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/provancher_leon_12E.html 


Friday, June 22, 2018

Jean-Baptiste Senderens



France, (1856–1937)
Jean-Baptiste Senderens was “a chemist, canon and Doctor of Science and Philosophy,” and “had great manual skill, consistency and perseverance” in his laboratory work.” (3) In 1899, Jean-Baptiste Senderens worked with Paul Sabatier (1) and developed a “method of organic synthesis employing hydrogenation and a heated nickel catalyst. [It is still] employed commercially for hydrogenating unsaturated vegetable oils to make margarine.” (4) Sabatier and Senderens had both studied under Filhol, a Professor of Chemistry in Toulouse, and it is said that their work is so close that it is impossible to distinguish the work of either man. (3)(0) Jean-Baptiste was “one of the most active workers in the field of contact catalysis.” (2) “In 1908 Poulenc Frères gave Senderens the title of Engineer and asked him to set up their laboratories and organic chemistry industry. Manufacturing was done at the Catholic University by three or four chemists working under Senderens” (3) “In 1923 Senderens was made a Knight of the Legion of Honour for his contributions to Poulenc's manufacture of war materials.” (3b) However, very little information can be found about him today, and while Sabatier was awarded a Nobel Prize (5), it is unclear what level of recognition Senderens got for doing an equitable amount of work on the same project.

Works Referenced
(1) Senderens, Jean Baptiste https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/senderens-jean-baptiste
(2) Obituary https://www.nature.com/articles/141148a0
(3) Jean Baptiste Senderens https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Baptiste_Senderens