Even popes can get spooked by an eclipse

ROME – On August 21, a large part of the United States will witness one of the most stunning and awe-inspiring spectacles offered by nature: A total eclipse of the sun.

Those who will be looking up on the path of totality, where the eclipse is best visible, will watch as the light turns gradually dimmer, until suddenly it will be night.

The stars will once again be visible and birds will roost, animals will think it’s nighttime and the air will get cooler.

Even colors will change, adopting an eerie quality because the light will be coming from the sun’s corona, the aura of plasma that surrounds stars, which has a different spectral distribution from normal sunlight.

“It’s really an extraordinary sight,” said Jesuit Father Paul Mueller, administrative vice director at the Vatican observatory, one of the oldest astronomical research institutions in the world.

“You can see why – at a time when people did not understand the cause of an eclipse – to suddenly and unpredictably have darkness come in the middle of the day was a frightening and disturbing thing,” he told Crux.

The movements of celestial bodies have long fascinated and frightened humanity, and people have often tried to decipher hidden messages in the sky.

Over the centuries, astrologers and fortunetellers were in high demand in the courts of emperors, kings and even popes. I

t’s also part of the Christ story, as it was a prophecy by astrologers foretelling the birth of a new king that led Herod to launch the massacre of the innocents.

As far as eclipses are concerned, they’re also part of papal history.

In 1628, Pope Urban VIII was staying at the Quirinal Palace near the Vatican with one main concern on his mind: His imminent death. Continue reading


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