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Vatican Observatory
Telescope in Castel Gandolfo
Organization Holy See
Code 036  
Location Castel Gandolfo, Lazio, Italy
Altitude 430 m

The Vatican Observatory (Specola Vaticana) is an astronomical research and educational institution supported by the Holy See. Originally based in the Roman College of Rome, its headquarters are now in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, and an observatory at the Mount Graham International Observatory in the United States.[1]

The Director of the Observatory is Father José Gabriel Funes an Argentinian Jesuit.In 2008, the Templeton Prize was awarded to cosmologist Fr. Michał Heller, a Vatican Observatory Adjunct Scholar. In 2010, the George Van Biesbroeck Prize was awarded to former observatory director, the American Jesuit, Fr. George Coyne.[2]


The Church has had long-standing interests in astronomy, due to the astronomical basis of the calendar by which holy days and Easter are determined. For instance, the Gregorian Calendar, promulgated in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII, was developed by the Jesuit mathematician Christoph Clavius at the Collegio Romano from astronomical data. The Gregorian Tower was completed in 1580 for his purpose, designed by Bolognese architect Ottaviano Matte.

In the 18th century, the Papacy actively supported astronomy, establishing the Observatory of the Roman College in 1774. In 1789–1787, the Specola Vaticana in the Tower of the Winds within the Vatican was established under the direction of Msgr. Filippo Luigi Gilii (1756–1821). When Msgr. Gilii died, the Specola was closed down, as inconvenient to students in the city, and with the dome of St. Peter's obstructing its view. Its instruments were transferred to the College Observatory. A third facility, the Observatory of the Capitol, was operated from 1827 to 1870.

Father Angelo Secchi SJ relocated the College Observatory to the top of Sant'Ignazio di Loyola a Campo Marzio (Church of St. Ignatius in Rome). In 1870, with the capture of Rome, the College Observatory fell into the hands of the Italian Government. Out of respect for his work, however, Father Secchi was permitted to continue using the Observatory. After Secchi's death in 1878, though, the Observatory was nationalized by the Italian government and renamed the Regio Osservatorio al Collegio Romano ("Royal Observatory at the Roman College"), putting an end to astronomical research in the Vatican.

In 1891, however, Pope Leo XIII issued a Motu Proprio re-founding the Specola Vaticana (Vatican Observatory) and a new observatory was built on the walls at the edge of the Vatican.[3] The new Vatican Observatory remained there for the next forty years.

By the 1930s, the smoke and sky-glow of the city had made it impossible to conduct useful observations in Rome.[1] Pope Pius XI relocated the Observatory to Castel Gandolfo, which is 25 kilometres (16 mi) southeast of Rome. By 1961, the same problems of light pollution made observing difficult at Castel Gandolfo. The Observatory then established the Vatican Observatory Research Group, with offices at the Steward Observatory of the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona.[1]

D.K.J. Q'Connell produced the first color photographs of a green flash at sunset in 1960.[4] In 1993, VORG completed construction of the 1.8 metres (71 in) Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope, which is at Mount Graham near Safford, Arizona.

The Observatory's headquarters remain in Italy at Castel Gandolfo. In early 2008, the Vatican announced that as part of a general reconstruction of the Papal residence, the Observatory would be relocated to a former convent a mile away from the castle, while its former space would be used to provide more room for the reception of diplomatic visitors. There was some commentary that the Observatory was being shut down or cut back, but in fact the Observatory staff welcomed the move.[citation needed] The old quarters in the castle were cramped and very poorly laid out for the Observatory's use. The research activities of VORG in Arizona continue unaffected.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Johnson, George (2009-06-22). "Vatican’s Celestial Eye, Seeking Not Angels but Data". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-06-24. 
  2. ^ Dennis Sadowski (2010-01-04). "American Astronomical Society honors former Vatican Observatory head". Catholic News Service. Retrieved 2010-01-06. 
  3. ^ History of the Vatican Observatory. Vatican Observatory Foundation. Retrieved 28 September 2013.
  4. ^ Maunder, Michael (2007). Lights in the Sky: Identifying and Understanding Astronomical and Meteorological Phenomena. Springer. p. 72. ISBN 1846287618. Retrieved 28 September 2013. 


  • Sabino Maffeo: The Vatican Observatory. In the Service of Nine Popes, Vatican Observatory Publications, 2001.

External links[edit]

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