Superstition VS seismology – Lisbon, November 1, 1755

Now this is interesting. A book went across my desk at the library today called The Last Day: wrath, ruin, and reason in the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755. It was on hold for someone else so I couldn’t take it home but no worries, Wiki to the rescue:

The earthquake had wide-ranging effects on the lives of the populace and intelligentsia. The earthquake had struck on an important Catholic holiday and had destroyed almost every important church in the city, causing anxiety and confusion amongst the citizens of a staunch and devout Catholic city and country, which had been a major patron of the Church. Theologians and philosophers would focus and speculate on the religious cause and message, seeing the earthquake as a manifestation of the anger of God. Some people thought the earthquake was a punishment for the massacre of thousands of armless indios and missionaries killed in South America (especially Paraguay). This massacre was ordered by the king of Portugal and made by Portuguese armies in 1754-1755.

The earthquake and its fallout strongly influenced the intelligentsia of the European Age of Enlightenment. The noted writer-philosopher Voltaire used the earthquake in Candide and in his Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne (“Poem on the Lisbon disaster”). Voltaire’s Candide attacks the notion that all is for the best in this, “the best of all possible worlds”, a world closely supervised by a benevolent deity. The Lisbon disaster provided a salutary counterexample.

What’s interesting here is that this is the first real seismic event where people started to think about recording the after effects for posterity. Out of the Lisbon disaster came the real study of earthquakes.

Edit 4:59PM

Coffee breaks just aren’t long enough, you know? Stupid full time work…gets in the way of my blogging.

Added interest to the Lisbon quake: 17 days later off the coast of New England, another quake hit that was felt as far north as Nova Scotia. After two aftershocks and news of the death and destruction in Portugal:

New Englanders took to prayer and fasting to ward off further manifestations of what the Bay Colony’s Lieutenant Governor Spencer Phips publicly pronounced God’s “righteous Anger against the heinous and provoking Sins of Men. ” How directly Divine Providence participated in the events was a matter of considerable discourse.

Considerable discourse and speedy publications of works denouncing sin and praising God, too. Some people never put their names on their work, but Jeremiah Newland did. He penned many, many verses like these ones:

O God of Mercy thou art good,
Thou Care for us did take,
When by thy Hand thou did Command,
the Earth and Sea to shake.

What Heart so hard that can’t be jarr’d,
when thoug the Earth doth shake :
O Lord what Eye can then be dry,
In terrible EARTHQUAKE.

Thy terrible Hand is on the Land,
by bloody War and Death ;
It is becaufe we broke thy Laws,
that thou didst shake the Earth.

Is ten good Men in each Town then ?
becaufe our Towns are spar’d
Bless God that they have made a Way,
that God might us Regard.

God looked strait in Sodom’s Gate,
but ten good Men were not ;
But yet we fee he did agree,
with Abraham and Lot.

Happily, there were people who preferred to figure out real answers to what caused the massive quake. Some of their theories were pretty outlandish, but at least they were trying and analyzing and adapting their beliefs as new information surfaced. Even now, the magnitude of Cape Ann’s quake mystifies geologists. The hunt for answers continues.

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Canadian Atheist Basically ordinary Library employee Avid book lover Ditto for movies Wanna-be writer Procrastinator
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