XII Congress of Italian scientists

Carta di ammissione di Angelo Secchi
Palermo, 28 agosto 1875
141 x 175 mm
Historical archives of INAF-Rome Astronomical Observatory , Monte Porzio Catone (Rome)

In 1875, from August 30 to September 8, the XII Congress of Italian scientists was held in Palermo. More than eight hundred members could choose to enroll in one of the ten classes in which the works were organized, ranging from the scientific to the humanistic fields. Obviously Secchi enrolled in the class I – mathematics, astronomy, physics and meteorology, of which he was appointed Vice-President, together with the physicist Giovanni Cantoni. The inscription card, represented here, is signed by the physicist Pietro Blaserna, president of the aforementioned class. The opening speech (Figure 1) was held by the President of Congress, the philosopher Terenzio Mamiani Della Rovere at the headquarters of the National Library, in the former Jesuit College of Palermo.
In addition to the official reception in the Municipal Hall, which took part more than 600 guests, there were exhibitions, excursions and even a tour of the island, at the closure of the Conference, attended by the Minister Ruggero Bonghi. Father Secchi, however, did not take part in any of these events to avoid exacerbation of the disputes aroused by his participation.
The decision of Secchi to take part in the Congress was in fact quite painful, since the simultaneous presence in the works of the philosopher Ernest Renan, invisus to the church for his antireligious writings, had exacerbated the controversies in ecclesiastical environment, in which the astronomer was unfortunately involved, since he was suspected of connivance with the heretics.
However, he deemed it indispensable for his participation, since, in that circumstance, he would meet at the Palermo Observatory (Figure 2) the governmental commission in charge of discussing a project of reform of Italian astronomical observatories proposed by Tacchini. Focused into avoiding, at least temporarily, the confiscation of the the Roman College Observatory, Secchi took part in the work, showing great lucidity in the analysis of the general situation of Italian astronomy.
Among the few distractions he could indulge in, there were a few walks in the gardens of the Royal Palace and a trip to Monte Pellegrino to visit the sanctuary of St. Rosalia, in the company of Tacchini, Cacciatore and other astronomers, during which, as tge “bon vivant” he was, he could taste Marsala wine with good ice cream.
The trip to Palermo however had the desired outcome, since, in March 1876, the decree Bonghi, which was to implement the reform, temporarily assigned a special “status” to the observatory of the Roman College, postponing any decision on the matter. Once he knew that his observatory was “Saved” and he completed his scientific commitments, Secchi left Palermo in mid-September in precarious health conditions, which forced him to skip the previously planned stage in Cosenza , to return immediately to Rome.

Donatella Randazzo, INAF-Palermo Astronomical Observatory

Atti del duodecimo congresso degli scienziati italiani tenuto in Palermo nel settembre del 1875, Roma, Tipografia dell’Opinione, 1879;
C. Fiuman, Il senno delle nazioni. I congressi degli scienziati italiani nell’Ottocento, Meridiana, 24, 1995, p. 115-116;
“Viaggio in Sicilia ed a Cosenza 1875”, Archivio P. Università Gregoriana, Fondo Secchi 23.II.D;
I. Chinnici, “Decoding the stars” (Brill, 2018, in press);
Diario di Georges Rayet, 26 agosto 1875, Archives de l’Observatoire de Bordeaux.