Vatican's Chief Astronomer delivers public lecture on God and the universe



Reverend Jane Howitt and Brother Guy Consolmagno
Reverend Jane Howitt and Brother Guy Consolmagno

A unique insight into science, the cosmos and religion has been shared by the Vatican’s Chief Astronomer during a public talk at Heriot-Watt University.

Brother Guy Consolmagno, travelled from Rome to the University’s Edinburgh campus to deliver the 2023 Annual Public Lecture hosted by the University Chaplaincy.

More than 300 people attended the event in person as Brother Guy discussed what happens when political and social pressures mix with science.

Space reminds me both how big the universe is, and how much bigger God is who created that universe

Brother Guy Consolmagno

Ahead of his talk, Brother Guy took a few moments to explain the Vatican’s deep-rooted interest in science, saying: “A lot of people wonder, why does the Pope hire astronomers? Why do we have an observatory? The short answer is simply to show the world that the church supports science.

“The Vatican has been involved in astronomy since the reform of the calendar in the 1580s - that's more than 400 years ago. We have telescopes now in both Rome and in a mountain top of Arizona, which are pioneers for the new way of making telescopes. At the Vatican, we've got photographic plates - 10,000 photographic plates - of astronomical objects as seen over the last 120 years. We've got 1,000 meteorites, samples of every asteroid that we've been able to sample, including meteorites from Mars and the Moon.

“Space reminds me both how big the universe is, and how much bigger God is who created that universe.”

The Vatican Observatory, which is based near Rome in the province of Castel Gandolfo, is one of the world’s oldest active astronomical observatories, with its roots traced back to 1582. It operates its own state-of-the-art telescope; has one of the world’s largest meteorite collections and has been making important contributions to science and astronomy for 400 years.

Brother Guy and many of his team are Jesuits, a religious order of priests and brothers in the Catholic church who work in areas including education and research.

Reverend Jane Howitt is Chaplain of Heriot-Watt University and the main organiser of the event. She said: “Our thanks go to Brother Guy for sharing a truly fascinating insight on science and religion. Thanks also to everyone who took the time to come along to this event.

“Our Annual Public Lecture is one of the highlights of our year and we aim to cover interesting subjects from experts in their field, always looking to see how faith intersects with academic disciplines.

“The Lectures are, of course, about education but they are also important in sharing the work carried out by the Chaplaincy to staff, students and with members of the public.

“Our Chaplaincy is open to everyone from all backgrounds and cultures. We hold events throughout the year to which people of all faiths and no religious faith are welcome. Further details of these events can be found on the Heriot-Watt website.”

Brother Guy will travel on from Edinburgh to deliver talks in St Andrews, Stonyhurst near Preston and at a parish in London.


Craig McManamon

Job title
Communications officer