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13 November 2014

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You are in: Isle of Man > History > The first Manx Christmas.

The first Manx Christmas.

It was the most important event in the Christian calendar and when the star of Bethlehem heralded the birth of baby Jesus it was seen across the Middle East, but could it have also been seen as far away as the Isle of Man?

According to the Chairman of the Isle of Man Astronomical Society, Howard Parkin, this mysterious phenomenon would most definitely have been witnessed by early Island settlers.

Howard Parkin has lectured on Astronomy at the Isle of Man College since 1985.

Ariel image of Ballakaighen on the Isle of Man.  Image courtesy of Manx National Heritage.

Ballakaighen roundhouse was built 2000 years ago.

"2000 years ago people there would have been people living and working on the Island. It’s likely they would have been living in Celtic roundhouses like the one built at Ballakaighen.

"At this time people would have been acutely aware of activity in the sky.  There was no artificial light to distort the view and much of life would have been spent outside studying the sky.

"So what would have been seen from the Roundhouses on the Isle of Man?  There are several possible explanations of what the star of Bethlehem actually was.

Neolithic burial site: Image courtesy of Manx National Heritage

Casshtal-Yn-Ard dates back 4000 years

"Some believe it could have been a comment like Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997, some think it was caused by a total eclipse of the sun.

"Another explanation is that the Star of Bethlehem could have been an occultation of a bright planet by the moon.  This is when the Moon passes in front of a star planet during the course of its orbital motion around the Earth.

"Some astronomers favour the explanation that the star, followed by the Three Kings, was an exploding star or a “Nova”.  Novas are so bright they can be seen in daylight, they are however very rare and only occur around every 500 years.

"One conspiracy theory was that the star was in fact a UFO bringing the Christ Child down to earth from the heavens.

"Despite all of this information you may chose to believe that the star of Bethlehem was a "celestial miracle" marking a momentous religious event"

Howard Parkin

"On the other hand it could have been either a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter similar to the one we saw recently, but the one that occurred in 2BC was after the death of Herod in 4BC.

"Another alternative is that it may have been a Grand conjunction of the constellation of Pisces.  In 7BC Jupiter and Saturn came close to each other three times in the constellation of Pisces.  Such conjunctions only occur about every 900 years. This happens when the two planets come together 3 times in a short period, due to a phenomenon known as “retrograde motion”.

"This is the theory I prefer.  If you think about it, Pisces, the sign of the fish has always been an important one in the Jewish religion and Saturn has traditionally always been the protector of Israel. So it makes sense from this perspective.

A Celtic Round House.  Image courtesy of Manx National Heritage.

Roundhouse inhabitants would study the skies.

"And the timing also works out.  The first conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter would have happened on 1 June 7BC, the second on 11 October 7 BC and the third would have occurred on the 25 December 7 BC.

"Despite all of this information you may chose to believe that the star of Bethlehem was a "celestial miracle" marking a momentous religious event but whatever the truth is something was seen in the skies and reported.

"It would probably have also been seen from the Isle of Man, unless of course it was too cloudy!"

last updated: 18/12/2008 at 11:18
created: 17/12/2008

Have Your Say

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Steve Cowell
The bright star in the East could well have been Sirius. Around December 24, Orions belt, also known as the Three Kings, line up to point towards Sirius and on towards the position of the rising Sun. Hence The Three Kings follow the Star in The East towards the birth of the Sun (of God).

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