Thursday, August 16, 2007

Immaculate Conception Quake Nothing like Lisbon 1755

The deaths from a Church collapse in Peru during a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics reminds one of the horrific event of November 1, 1755 when All Saints Day was being celebrated in Lisbon, the capital of a vast world empire largely spread by a mixture of commercial greed and religious zeal. The churches of Lisbon shook for ten minutes at 10AM and 70,000 people were killed, many during the Holy Day High Mass, as a British observer notes as he:
climbed over the ruins of St. Paul's Church to get to the river's side, where I thought I might find safety. Here I found a prodigious concourse of people of both sexes, and of all ranks and conditions, among whom I observed some of the principal canons of the patriarchal church, in their purple robes and rochets, as these all go in the habit of bishops; several priests who had run from the altars in their sacerdotal vestments in the midst of their celebrating Mass.

Like San Francisco, much of the damage came from later fires, but a huge tsunami also caused extensive fatalities in Lisbon. Wikipedia hardly exaggerates the immense influence the Lisbon catastrophe had on European thought:
The earthquake strongly influenced many thinkers of the European Enlightenment. Many contemporary philosophers mentioned or alluded to the earthquake in their writings, notably Voltaire 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. As Theodor Adorno wrote, "[t]he earthquake of Lisbon sufficed to cure Voltaire of the theodicy of Leibniz" (Negative Dialectics 361). In the later twentieth century, following Adorno, the 1755 earthquake has sometimes been compared to the Holocaust as a catastrophe so tremendous as to have a transformative impact on European culture and philosophy.......Jean-Jacques Rousseau was also influenced by the devastation following the earthquake, whose severity he believed was due to too many people living within the close quarters of the city. Rousseau used the earthquake as an argument against cities as part of his desire for a more naturalistic way of life.

Peru's temblor has nothing on Lisbon, but again devout Catholics attending late afternoon Holy Day Masses were punished for their devotions.

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