"While it is true that the church condemned Galileo, new research shows that centuries of oversimplifications have concealed just how hard Rome worked to amass astronomical tools, measurements, tests and lore...
...Dr. Richard S. Westfall, a historian of science, in 1989 wrote that Rome's handling of Galileo made Copernican astronomy a forbidden topic among faithful Catholics for two centuries.
Not so, Dr. Heilbron claims. Rome's support of astronomy was considerable.
"The church tended to regard all the systems of the mathematical astronomy as fictions," Dr. Heilbron wrote. "That interpretation gave Catholic writers scope to develop mathematical and observational astronomy almost as they pleased, despite the tough wording of the condemnation of Galileo."
To illustrate, Dr. Heilbron examined four cathedrals: San Petronio in Bologna, Santa Maria degli Angeli in Rome, St. Sulpice in Paris and Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence.
For the great Basilica of San Petronio, he showed how a solar observatory was erected in 1576 by Egnatio Danti, a mathematician and Dominican friar who worked for Cosimo I dei Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, and who advised Pope Gregory on calendar reform. The church observatory produced data long before the telescope existed.
By 1582, the Gregorian calendar had been established, creating the modern year of 365 days and an occasional leap year of 366 days. Danti was rewarded with a commission to build a solar observatory in the Vatican itself within the Torre dei Venti, or Tower of the Winds.
The golden age of the cathedral observatories came later, between 1650 and 1750, Dr. Heilbron writes, and helped to disprove the astronomical dogma that the church had defended with such militancy in the case of Galileo.