Edition 14 of the Astronomy On-line Newspaper

Was Bishop Nicolas Lost in the Desert?

It seems that one particular figure, the Icelandic Bishop Nicolas, who travelled to Jerusalem in the 12th century, has won the hearts on many Astronomy On-Line participants! He is mentioned in connection with the Final Event.

In any case, we are receiving various messages from groups who have undertaken to check whether his method to determine the geographical latitude really works.

Here are two letters. Note that the correct latitude of Jerusalem is 31.47 degrees North. Thus the French group was not so far off as their letter seems indicate!


Here are some news from the group Club Astro - Lycee Jean Moulin in Draguignan (France).

We were very happy to discover your new project, the Final Event, about the measurement of the latitude. And very interested in Bishop Nicolas' method.

We did this morning his experiments in the classroom with a group of 18 students and tried to find the latitude of Jerusalem : our results are quite strange or maybe Nicolas was lost... somewhere in the desert !

The medium value of our results is 28.4 degrees (with values going from 24.2 to 30.9...). An explanation can be that we are too young (15-16) and our size is not yet that of a Bishop !

Well, we had got our own latitude using the Local Noon Method, while preparing the observation of the Moon eclipse: On the equinox day, the shadow of a small 10 cm high gnomon was measuring 9.5 cm at noon. We deduced the latitude of our town (Draguignan) to be 43,5 degrees.

Best greetings from

Jean Moulin Club Astro


Dear friends!

We hereby report the following data: Altitude of North Star 55,3 deg +/- 0,1 deg. This is in close agreement with the correct value of our geografical latitude: 54,7 deg.

The deviation is 0,6 deg corresponding to an error of merely 70 km. So the method works even though we used simple homemade equipment.

We have also tested the method Bishop Nicolas used to find Jerusalem in the 12th century. We found the average value of Jerusalems geografical latitude to 29,0 deg +/- 1,5 deg standard deviation. The Bishop Nicolas-method fits within 3-400 km. So if you have to walk from Northern Europe to the holy city this finger method may be a useful hint.

Greetings from

Astronomy-Class
Amtsgymnasiet in Soenderborg, Denmark


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Last update: Nov 21, 1996