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Juan Bautista Villalpando, S.J.
(1552 to 1608)
and his version of Solomon's Temple

East elevation of Solomon's temple

Juan Bautista Villalpando, S.J. was born in Cordova and died in Rome. He studied geometry and architecture under Juan de Herrera, the royal architect of the Spanish king Philip II. As a young man Juan was fascinated by the structure of the temple of Solomon and the temple described by the prophet Ezekiel. After entering the Society this interest, shared with another Jesuit, Jerome Prado, S.J., led both to collaborate in the exegesis of the prophet Ezekiel. Because of this Villalpando is remembered in Carolus Sommervogel's Bibliothèque for his exegetical work instead of for his contribution to the applications of geometry to architecture. That he was more than a theorist is evident from the fact that at the age of 27 while still an unordained Jesuit scholastic, he was in charge of constructing three major Jesuit buildings, one of which still stands, the church of the Jesuit college in Seville. He designed the first oval church ever built in Spain.

Juan published works in geometry and architecture and also interpreted inscriptions both in Rome and Jerusalem along with Jerome Prado; when the latter died he inherited Prado's unfinished commentary on Ezekiel. Juan's mathematical contributions center on proportion and harmony and follow the architectural usage of Euclid. He produced 21 original propositions on the center of gravity and the line of direction. These can be found in the collection of Father Marin Mersenne, Synopsis mathematica (1626). Isaac Newton used the works of Villalpando in his architectural studies.

In the history of architecture he is most renowned, however, for his famous work, the design and reconstruction of the temple of Solomon. King Philip II had granted 3,000 scudi for engraving the prints. Villalpando had to undergo considerable harassment after his work had become the target of a good deal of criticism. The campaign against him was mounted by Benito Arias Montano, editor of the celebrated Polyglot Bible of 1572. Ostensibly the latter's main objection to the Jesuit's reconstruction was on the grounds that the building described by Ezechiel had nothing to do with the Temple built by Solomon, as described in the Book of Kings and in other sources. When this exegetical question arose the Jesuit General Aquaviva involved himself in the project as did Pope Sixtus V, who appointed a commission to investigate Villalpando's orthodoxy. The result was that Villalpando was completely cleared of misrepresenting Sacred Scripture.

An investigation into Baroque art illustrates how Villalpando's Ezechielis Explicatio (1596-1604) combines mysticism and science. An appreciation of Juan's work is expressed in Rudolf Wittkower & Irma Jaffe's book "Baroque Art: The Jesuit Contribution" in the chapter entitled "Hermetism and the Mystical Architecture of the Society of Jesus" by René Taylor.
Villalpando had undertaken to provide the world with the first full-scale imago of Solomon's Temple on the grounds that only by translating Ezechiel's vision into terms of real architecture could one fully apprehend its mystical import. The form and proportions of the Temple, which necessarily had to be perfect, since they were inspired by God, provided an insight into the perfection of the City of God.

In this context it should not be forgotten how deeply the traditional concept of the Temple of Solomon as the forerunner of the celestial Jerusalem was rooted in the Jesuit Society's early history. In 1523 the founder, Ignatius Loyola, had undertaken the long and hazardous journey to the Holy Land, and had seen the earthly Jerusalem with his own eyes. It is recorded that, while he was there, he was seized with a burning desire to convert the Moslems. His impulse may well have stemmed from the conviction so widespread at the time that the conquest of the terrestrial Jerusalem, by either evangelization or force of arms, would be closely followed by the reign of Christ upon earth.

Compared to the complex task which Villalpando had been compelled to face in determining the form and dimensions of the Temple, his design was simplicity itself. According to the book of Genesis, Noah's Ark was 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 high. Much, of course, depended on the precise value of the cubit. Origen had claimed that it was equivalent to six Roman feet, which the Jesuit scholar, Athanasius Kircher dismissed as absurd since it would have made the Ark inordinately vast. Villalpando had maintained that it was about two and a half feet, basing his claim on the authority of Vitruvius, whereas Kircher, likewise arguing from Vitruvius, had come to the conclusion that it was one and a half feet.

The truth is that Villalpando, like his master Herrera, was one of those ambivalent figures who displayed a combination of the mystical and the practical which characterized men such as Copernicus, Cardan, Tycho, Porta, Kepler, Leibniz, and Newton. So, in the Jesuit's work there seems to have been something for everyone. In 1626 Father Marin Mersenne, that inveterate enemy of everything Hermetic, drew the attention of the scholarly world to what he considered to be the innovatory nature of Villalpando's remarks on the center of gravity in his third book.

Some examples of Villalpando's architectural creations

Villalpando's Cathedral in BaezaVillalpando's San Hermenegildo Church in Sevile
Divine order of Solomon's templeAstrological order of Solomon's temple
Anthropomorphic dimensions of the templeVillalpando's plan of Solomon's templeVillalpando's plan of Solomon's temple
Villalpando's integration of Solomon's temple
using pythagorean and musical consonances
Sanctuary of Solomon's temple


Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu ( AHSI ) Rome: Institutum Historicum
Bangert, William A History of the Society of Jesus. St. Louis: St. Louis Institute, 1972uis, 1810
Boyer, Carl A history of mathematics. New York: Wiley, 1968
Gillispie, Charles. C. ed., Dictionary of Scientific biography. 16 vols. New York: Charles Scribner and Sons, 1970
{Reference to him in the Dictionary of Scientific Biography is found in v 13 p29-30.}
Oldenburg, Henry ed. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. vols. 1-30. London: 1665-1715
Reilly, Conor "A catalogue of Jesuitica in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London" in A.H.S.I. vol. 27,1958, p. 339-362
Sarton, GeorgeThe study of the history of mathematics. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard, 1936
Sommervogel, Carolus Bibliothèque de la compagnie de Jésus. 12 volumes. Bruxelles: Société Belge de Libraire, 1890-1960
{Two entries are found in Sommervogel; an example is the following:
Ezechielis explicatio (Rome, 1596-1604)}

Adventures of Some Early Jesuit Scientists

José de Acosta, S.J. - 1600: Pioneer of the Geophysical Sciences
François De Aguilon, S.J. - 1617: and his Six books on Optics
Roger Joseph Boscovich, S.J. - 1787: and his atomic theory
Christopher Clavius, S.J. - 1612: and his Gregorian Calendar
Honoré Fabri, S.J. - 1688: and his post-calculus geometry
Francesco M. Grimaldi, S.J. - 1663: and his diffraction of light
Paul Guldin, S.J. - 1643: applications of Guldin's Rule
Maximilian Hell, S.J. - 1792: and his Mesmerizing encounters
Athanasius Kircher, S.J. - 1680: The Master of a Hundred Arts
Francesco Lana-Terzi, S.J. - 1687: The Father of Aeronautics
Francis Line, S.J. - 1654: the hunted and elusive clock maker
Juan Molina, S.J. - 1829: The First Scientist of Chile
Jerôme Nadal, S.J. -1580: perspective art and composition of place
Ignace Pardies, S.J. - 1673: and his influence on Newton
Andrea Pozzo, S.J. - 1709: and his perspective geometry
Vincent Riccati, S.J. - 1775: and his hyperbolic functions
Matteo Ricci, S.J. - 1610: who brought scientific innovations to China
John Baptist Riccioli, S.J. - 167I: and his long-lived selenograph
Girolamo Saccheri, S.J. - 1733: and his solution to Euclid's blemish
Theorems of Saccheri, S.J. - 1733: and his non Euclidean Geometry
Christopher Scheiner, S.J. - 1650: sunspots and his equatorial mount
Gaspar Schott, S.J. - 1666: and the experiment at Magdeburg
Angelo Secchi, S.J. - 1878: the Father of Astrophysics
Joseph Stepling, S.J. - 1650: symbolic logic and his research academy
André Tacquet, S.J. - 1660: and his treatment of infinitesimals
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S. J. - 1955: and The Phenomenon of man
Ferdinand Verbiest, S.J. - 1688: an influential Jesuit scientist in China
Juan Bautista Villalpando, S.J. - 1608: and his version of Solomon's Temple
Gregory Saint Vincent, S.J. - 1667: and his polar coordinates
Nicolas Zucchi, S.J. - 1670: the renowned telescope maker

Influence of Some Early Jesuit Scientists

The 35 lunar craters named to honor Jesuit Scientists: their location and description
Post-Pombal Portugal opinion of Pre-Pombal Jesuit Scientists: a recent conference
Seismology, The Jesuit Science. a Jesuit history of geophysics

Another menu of Jesuit Interest

Jesuit history, tradition and spirituality

Visit the Jesuit Resource Page for even more links to things Jesuit.

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