Thursday, February 18


The Athanasius Kircher Society Resurfaces

As many of our readers know, I have a great fondness for the Baroque Jesuit scientist Fr. Athanasius Kircher, the last man who knew everything. Kircher frequently got the wrong end of the stick (though not as often as one might think -- his universe was definitely a heliocentric one), but his work is so crammed with wonderful weirdness--a cat piano, a sunflower clock, dragon-shaped balloons with the words Fugite Divina ira inscribed upon them, and the most beautiful scientific diagrams to ever grace a page--it is easy to overlook them in an age when, for all its unfolding mysteries, science has all the fun of an Albigensian time-management seminar. Also, being a priest and a holy man, Kircher is sort of an unofficial patron saint of mine, and I even occasionally ask him to intercede for me.

I was, as a consequence, marvelous to discover the Athanasius Kircher Society, an institution dedicated not to the study of Kircheriana, but the kind of odd and exciting stuff he himself would have enjoyed studying himself, and sad to see its disappearance after a long and fruitful life as a website and even one extremely successful real-life meeting which featured a presentation of a scene from Romeo and Juliet in the international language of Solresol, a lecture by the Man Who Fell To Earth from Space (he was a test pilot or something), and a fellow whose brain made Rain Man look like Adam Sandler. But I was now delighted to discover that the Kircher society appears to be back--or at the very least, some successor group--under the name Atlas Obscura: Wondrous, Curious and Bizarre Locations Around the World, with entries on the beautiful Renaissance Villa Litta, the International Banana Club Museum, the British Lawnmower Museum, and a sphinx with Joseph Smith's face (which explains that whole "Reformed Egyptian" thing, I suppose.)

There is also a somewhat unnecessarily uncharitable entry on St. Bernadette (who we celebrate today on the 1962 calendar) and her incorrupt body, which seems a bit indignant that she currently has a wax face and hands, not realizing that is standard operating procedure for incorruptibles--miraculous doesn't always mean pretty. St. Rose of Viterbo, for instance, looks quite good for being 800 years old, but she's still missing her nose. On the other hand, she looks a lot better than the artifically-embalmed body of Mao, which I'm told has turned a rather unsettling Crayola-style shade of orange.

One other critique: I do think the automatic link generator at the bottom of the page needs some work as I really have no desire to see "Strange Photos from Russian Social Network," the top ten grossest foods, odd tattoos, faked Photoshopped photos, fake fake Photoshopped photos, that guy with a deformed skull (please, not during my lunch break), or off-color photographs of a tree shaped like something I can't discuss on a family website (even a rather dysfunctional family website like this one). I do like the Dubai elephant clock, though.

Incidentally, I see Kircher's monumental and profusely-illustrated 1675 work on Noah's ark can be found online, for those Latin buffs among us with too much time on their hands.

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