Institute of Astronomy

A Treasure Restored

Published on 02/03/2016 

One of the IoA Library's great treasures has recently returned from J.S. Wilson & Son bookbinders where it had been restored.

The book, Almagestum Novum, was written by the Italian astronomer and Jesuit Giovani Batista Riccioli (who lived 1598-1671).  Riccioli, worked in Parma and in Bologna, as a theologian, astronomer and early physicist, making experiments on pendulums and falling bodies.

In 1651 he published his major work on astronomy, the Almagestum Novum, or New Almagest, refering to the great work of ancient Greek astronomy, the Almagest of Claudius Ptolemy.  Riccioli's massive folio book of @1500 pages, was intended to be the ultimate reference guide to all aspects of astronomy.

Of particular interest are Book 4 which contains maps of the Moon by another Jesuit astronomer Francesco Maria Grimaldi (1618-1663).  Riccioli, introduced on these maps the naming system for lunar features which is used today, where craters are named after famous astronomers, and seas after states of the weather.

In Book 9 Riccioli considers arguments for the movement of the Earth.  Here he supported the anti-Copernican stance of his church. He supported a modified form of Tycho Brahe's planetary system, where the Earth stood still, and the Sun and planets orbited around it.  The beautiful frontispiece of the book shows the different planetary systems being 'weighed' in the balance.  Notice that Ptolemy's Earth centered system is left disguarded on the ground.  For a detailed description of the frontispiece CLICK HERE.

Our copy contains only Books 1-7 and the Appendix, it is not uncommon for old books to be incomplete in this way.  The book was given to the Cambridge Observatory library by George Airy in 1835.  Airy was Director of the Cambridge Observatory and Plumian Professor, and we have a number of antiquarian books given to us by him. By 2015 the book was in need of some basic repairs, the front board had become detached and the spine had started to part. In order to make use of the book and preserve it for the future the book was sent to the binders for repair.  A fund of money donated by Mr David Purchase (an a Fellow Commoner of Sidney Sussex) was used to pay for the repairs.  The work was very sensitively done by J.S. Wilson & Son of Cambridge.  As much of the original binding as possible was preserved, including the original spine label.

We are delighted to have this book back in our Library, in a state that should keep it together for another 250 years.  We also hope to show the book to the public on our Open Afternoon on Saturday 19th March.

Mark Hurn, Departmental Librarian, February 2016



Page last updated: 3 March 2016 at 09:05