A total eclipse of a super blood moon was visible in Australia for around 15 minutes last week and it was spectacular. During a lunar eclipse, the Earth passes directly in between the Sun and the Moon and the Moon appears to glow red, reflecting only the light that travels through the Earth’s atmosphere.
Humans have known the scientific cause of this phenomenon for millennia. As early as 3,000 years ago, the Babylonians were keeping records of the movements of the celestial bodies on clay tablets, calculating the date and time of future eclipses.
While it is often assumed that the Middle Ages was a time of ignorance and superstition, the truth of medieval Christian understandings of lunar eclipses is much more complex.
From ancient Greece to medieval Europe
There are numerous surviving scientific discussions of eclipses written by Christians from across the medieval period.
In the 7th century, St Isidore of Seville explained in his encyclopedic Etymologies a lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon, not having its own light, moves into the shadow of the Earth. He also knew lunar eclipses could only occur on the 15th lunar day as they happen only when the moon is full.
Isidore drew on classical sources that translated the theories of ancient Greek astronomers into Latin, the language of the medieval Church in western Europe.
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