Friday, July 15, 2022

Did Catholic Authorities Oppose the Lightning Rod?

Screws from Late Middle Ages · Did Catholic Authorities Oppose the Lightning Rod?

It is easy to find general, sweeping statements, that Benjamin Franklin's lightning rod was opposed by religious authorities of some kind.

Here is one with some specifics:

ESD Journal : Franklin's Unholy Lightning Rod
Written by Al Seckel and John Edwards, 1984 / included November 25, 2002

I quote:

In America, Rev. Thomas Prince, pastor of Old South Church, blamed Franklin's invention of the lightning rod for causing the Massachusetts earthquake of 1755.

Who is this Thomas Prince?

Town Name - It is safe to say that the residents of Princeton have not been familiar with the character, social standing and even greatness of the Rev. Thomas Prince whose name the town bears, and who was in many respects a remarkable man.

Princeton Historical Society : Reverend Thomas Prince

If you scroll down a bit, you will find a statement matching that on the ESD Journal.

And, since the statement on Rev. Thomas Prince in either article omitted his precise religious affiliation, Anglican, Calvinist or other, the wikipedia page assigns him to the First Great Awakening and makes him an associate of George Whitefield.

And it seems Old South was a Presbyterian Church (not an Anglican or Episcopalian one).

Back to first link. It seems the writers Al Seckel and John Edwards at least tried to imply local opposition to lightning rods on the part of Catholic clergy.

In Austria, the Church of Rosenburg was struck so frequently and with such loss of life that the peasants feared to attend services. Several times the spire had to be rebuilt. It was not until 1778, 26 years after Franklin's discovery, that church authorities finally permitted a rod to be attached. Then all trouble ceased.

A typical case was the tower of St. Mark's in Venice. In spite of the angel at its summit, the bells consecrated to ward off devils and witches in the air, the holy relics in the church below, and the Processions in the adjacent square, the tower was frequently damaged or destroyed by lightning. It was not until 1766 that a lightning rod was placed upon it-and the tower has never been struck since.

Had the ecclesiastics of the Church of San Nazaro in Brecia given in to repeated urgings to install a lightning rod, they might have averted a terrible catastrophe. The Republic of Venice had stored in the vaults of this church several thousand pounds of gunpowder. In 1767, 17 years after Franklin's discovery, no rod having been placed on the church, it was struck by lightning and the gunpowder exploded. One-sixth of the city was destroyed and over 3,000 lives were lost because the priests refused to install the "heretical rod."

I have however not seen any Catholic clergyman given by name and text as opposing the lightning rod. Also, both for Rosenburg and St. Mark's there is no clear indication that the lightning rod was known prior to instalment.

And I have seen one counterexample:

Carl Gustaf Tessin var svensk minister i Wien i två omgångar; 1725 och 1735-36. I dennes dagbok står att läsa ”i Sankt Steffens (Stefansdomen) torn i Wien går från öfversta spetsen utföre genom kyrkohvalfvet och ner i jorden en tjock ståltråd, ditsatt för flere hundrade år sedan i afsigt att ditleda blixtstrålen, som ock oftast sker, då han löper längs tråden.”[2]Åskledare

This means: Carl Gustaf (Charles Gustavus) Tessin was Swedish minister to Vienna twice over; 1725 and 1735-36. In his diary one can read "in Sient Steffen's tower in Vienna, from the uppermost top down through the Church vault and down into the Earth a thick steel whire goes, added several centuries agao in the intent of leading the lightning, as is also often the case, as it leaps along the wire."

The footnote 2 attributes this to Tessin, Carl Gustaf (1824). Carl Gustaf Tessins dagbok : 1757 - if I get this right, it means, in 1757, after Tessin heard of Franklin's invention, he recalled (or at worst pretended to recall) a similar invention already in place since centuries (that is, since the Renaissance or Middle Ages) in the Cathedral tower of Vienna, where he had been a few decades earlier.

If this is true, the lightning rod was in fact not invented by Franklin, only reinvented by him, and had been invented, at least locally, in Vienna, among those benighted Catholics that I was born among ...

Hans Georg Lundahl
St. Henry I, Emperor and Confessor

Sancti Henrici Primi, Imperatoris Romanorum et Confessoris, cujus dies natalis tertio Idus mensis hujus recensetur.

PS, do read the comments!


Hans Georg Lundahl said...

By the way, it would seem that this link and another link either one copied the other or both a third, because both misspell "Brescia" as "Brecia" - **Brecia would be pronounced **Bretcha, but Brescia (the real name) is pronounced Bresha.

Here is the other site, Milton Timmons

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

It's problematic in more than one way, since, when I find
Santi Nazaro e Celso, Brescia,_Brescia

... it gives a somewhat different story about the explosion:

"A major reconstruction began in 1746, by designs of abate Zinelli, and completed in 1781, leading to the statue-topped neoclassical facade we see today.[1] It was interrupted in 1769 by an accidental explosion of a powder magazine at nearby Porta Nazaro. Reconstruction finally ceased and worship was resumed in 1780. Seventeen years later the college of canons was suppressed, but the church remained functioning as a parish church. The organ in the church was completed by Luigi Amati in 1803."

So, the powder wasn't stored in the Church, and if there was no lightning rod before the explosion it may have been because the Church was being reconstructed.

Here is anyway the story on wikipedia, as above passage gives a link: