The Sun in the Church: Cathedrals as Solar Observatories, J.L.Heilbron, Harvard University Press, 1999, £21.95, hardback, pp. 366.

Heilbron’s study of ecclesiastical attitudes to astronomy in the Renaissance sets out to challenge the clichéd views of the church’s attitude to science based on the prosecution of Galileo. He argues that astronomical advance was crucial to the church due to the age-old problem of establishing the date of Easter. He claims that from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries major cathedrals also functioned as observatories serving the purpose of  Roman Catholic theologians who supported the new science. Thus the falling of sun beams through a carefully paced church window might have scientific as well as aesthetic significance.