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The Vatican Observatory (Specola Vaticana) is an astronomical research and educational institution supported by the Holy See. Originally based in Romemarker, it now has headquarters and laboratory at the summer residence of the Pope in Castel Gandolfomarker, Italymarker, and an observatory at the Mount Graham International Observatorymarker in the United Statesmarker.

The Director of the Observatory is Fr. José Gabriel Funes, SJ. Many distinguished scholars have worked at the Observatory. In 2008, the Templeton Prize was awarded to cosmologist Fr. Michał Heller, a Vatican Observatory Adjunct Scholar.


The Church has had long-standing interests in astronomy, due to the astronomical basis of the calendar by which holy days and Easter are determined. For instance, the Gregorian Calendar, promulgated in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII, was developed by the Jesuit mathematician Christoph Clavius at the Collegio Romanomarker from astronomical data.

In the 18th century, the Papacy actively supported astronomy, establishing the Observatory of the Roman College in 1774. In 1789-1787, the Specola Vaticana in the Tower of the Winds within the Vatican was established under the direction of Msgr. Filippo Luigi Gilii (1756-1821). When Msgr. Gilii died, the Specola was closed down, as inconvenient to students in the city, and with the dome of St. Peter'smarker obstructing its view. Its instruments were transferred to the College Observatory. A third facility, the Observatory of the Capitol, was operated from 1827 to 1870.

Father Angelo Secchi SJ relocated the College Observatory to the top of Sant'Ignazio di Loyola a Campo Marziomarker (Church of St. Ignatius in Romemarker). However, when Father Secchi died in 1878, there was grave tension between the Holy See and the government of Italymarker. The Observatory was renamed Regio Osservatorio al Collegio Romano ("Royal Observatory at the Roman College"), and remained in operation as such till 1923.

It was reopened in the 1930s, by which time the smoke and sky-glow of the city made it impossible to conduct useful observations in Rome. The Observatory relocated to Castel Gandolfo, which is southeast of Rome. By 1961, the same problems now existed at Castel Gandolfo. The Observatory then established the Vatican Observatory Research Group, with offices at the Steward Observatorymarker of the University of Arizonamarker in Tucsonmarker, Arizonamarker.

In 1993, VORG completed the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescopemarker, which is at Mount Grahammarker near Safford, Arizonamarker.

The Observatory's headquarters remained in Italy at Castel Gandolfo. In early 2008, the Vatican announced that as part of a general reconstruction of the Papal residence, the Observatory would be relocated to a former convent a mile away from the castle, while its former space would be used to provide more room for the reception of diplomatic visitors. There was some commentary that the Observatory was being shut down or cut back, but in fact the Observatory staff welcomed the move. The old quarters in the castle were cramped and very poorly laid out for the Observatory's use. The research activities of VORG in Arizona continue unaffected.


  • S. Maffeo, S.J., The Vatican Observatory. In the Service of Nine Popes, Vatican Observatory Publications, 2001.

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