Jesuit Astronomers in China, India and Other Missions (1540–1773)

  • Augustín Udías
Part of the Astrophysics and Space Science Library book series (ASSL, volume 286)


The interest in astronomy that we have seen in the Jesuit colleges of Europe was carried into the mission countries. In 1552, at the end of his second journey to Japan, Francis Xavier (1506–1552), the first Jesuit missionary to the East, wrote to Rome asking that Jesuits sent to Japan should have some knowledge of astronomy since the Japanese were a very curious people interested in the motion of the heavens, solar and lunar eclipses, lunar phases, the origin of rain, snow, thunder and lighting and other natural phenomena. However, it was not in Japan, but in China that Jesuit missionaries found astronomy a great help in their work of spreading the Christian faith. As Ferdinand Verbiest, one of the Jesuit Directors of the Beijing Observatory, expressed it in his book Astronomia Europaea: “Holy Religion makes her official entry (in China) as a very beautiful queen, leaning on the arms of Astronomy and she easily attract the looks of all the heathens. What is more, often dressed in a starry robe, she easily obtains access to the rulers and prefects of the provinces.” At the end of the book he repeats the same idea in a more explicit form, “Christian Religion in China is justly represented as a most august queen who appears publicly with her arm leaning on Astronomy ... because she was first introduced in China through Astronomy, because she was left untouched thanks to Astronomy and because after having been banished several times, she was each time called back and successfully restored to her former dignity by Astronomy.” Truly, it was through their interest in astronomical knowledge that the first Jesuit missionaries were able to enter China and influence Chinese society, which was closed in the sixteenth century to all foreigners. Even at times when other missionaries were expelled from China, Jesuit astronomers remained in their posts. Another country to which Jesuit missionaries carried their astronomical observations was India. Some Indian princes were interested in astronomy and the Jesuits collaborated with them, but this collaboration was not as extensive as in China Finally, in a completely different scenario, Jesuits also founded the first astronomical observatory of the western hemisphere in the mission of Paraguay.


Solar Eclipse Astronomical Observation Lunar Eclipse Astronomical Instrument Jesuit Missionary 
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Augustín Udías
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Geophysics and MeteorologyUniversidad ComplutenseMadridSpain

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