In spite of disagreement by some, Frances was adamant that Jesus was born on December 25, which was at winter solstice. (Today it is December 21.) Winter solstice marks the end of longer nights and the beginning of more daylight. For Jesus birth to be at winter solstice is symbolically perfect, for as the Old Testament prophets said,
"In the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone," Isaiah 9:1-2; and
"Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising," Isaiah 60:1-3.
February 27, 1833
I am much amused with your humility about asking a question which no one can answer. No one knows when, or why, these signs were invented.
Frances is deep into research on the signs of the zodiac and names of the stars and constellations. As yet, she has not determined when they were invented and named. That will come later. Meanwhile, she answers her young friend's question in this way:
Sir Isaac Newton thought perhaps the ancient Chiron, if indeed he ever existed and was only a good horseman and not a fabulous monster, might invent them; but Josephus says they were on the stones of the High Priest's breastplate centuries before the Trojan War, and many learned Jewish writer have said that they were borne on the standards of the tribes of Israel.
I have now before me an ancient Rabbinical commentary on the blessing of Jacob, referring most of it to '"King Messiah;" and other Rabbins identify the Bull to Joseph, and the Lion to Judah; the Serpent or Scorpion to Dan, and a Wolf to Benjamin, rest also on ancient Hebrew authorities.
Is it only simple curiosity that spurs her on in her research? No, it is something richer. Her letter continues:
This inquiry has led me to such glorious testimonies of the faith of the ancient Jewish Church in the Divinity and Mediatorial Office of the Blessed Redeemer, that I am fully repaid for years of labour. I find that they attributed all, and even more, of the prophecies to Him, than we have ever done, and their views of "King Messiah" are magnificent.
December 6, 1860
"I have been able in the last fortnight to explain every one of the figures in the Dendera Zodiac and Planisphere, over which I had been puzzling in vain for the last thirty years."
In her younger years, Frances Rolleston had collected piles of information to support her theory that the ancient starry signs and constellations illustrated God's plan of salvation through the God-man Jesus. Now in her seventies and eighties she was organizing that material for publication.
Since she considered this—her book Mazzaroth—to be the major work of her life, it must have been frustrating not to be able to work out the meanings of the zodiac figures from the Temple of Dendera in Egypt. Before the planisphere was removed and brought to France, a drawing of it had circulated, and FR's friend and neighbor, William Hone, had given her a print of it.
FR had worked with planispheres of Greek and Indian origin, and others, but this one had taken 30 years of scrutiny. How triumphant FR must have felt when she told her friend Caroline Dent that she could now explain every one of its figures. A less diligent person might have given up long before.
August 30, 1862
FR's interest in astronomy continued strong all her life. For her, the matter of disappearing stars and nebulae demanded an explanation. After all, the Scriptures she so loved and defended said, about God and his starry creation:
Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth. Isaiah 40:26.
If none of those objects fail—that is fail to show up for the muster when he calls them out—how did one account for what was being observed? Here's one attempt by FR in her August 1862 letter to James Reddie:
My theory of the famous disappearance of the nebula, visible to the naked eye in Andromeda, as well as of some stars, is this,—in perspective, you know as a mathematician, there is a vanishing point at which the man walking disappears; but he does not cease to exist; so of lost stars and lost nebulae. This is very simple—is it satisfactory?
She adds to the puzzle by quoting from a recently published document:
Mr. J. R. Hind, the astronomer, calls attention to the fact that a nebula in the constellation Taurus, which was discerned in 1852, has totally vanished from its place in the heavens. He is at a loss to account for the phenomenon, and requests possessors of telescopes to keep an eye on this portion of the heavens.
As far as I know, FR never owned a telescope, preferring naked eye observation.
April 4, 1863
A friend has referred FR to an issue of The Ecclesiastic where she may read that her life's work, Mazzaroth: The Constellations, has been mentioned.
"I hear to-day that Sir George Cornewall Lewis has spoken of 'Mazzaroth' as a work of 'great learning and research.' "
The compliment is valuable in FR's efforts to get her work known. Sir George is the British Secretary of State for War. He has also written on ancient astronomy.
The previous year FR read his book and found herself "in the very thick of a tussle with Sir G. C. Lewis. His 'Ancients' and not my 'Ancients,' but the Greeks . . . . Sir G. C. L___ shows what ignorance and confusion the Greek and Roman astronomy was, while I and my party of Orientalists show the sublime simplicity of that of the Hebrew and Arabs. . . . Greece ancient! when it was uninhabited or savage when the magnificent Solomon knew the wisdom of heaven and earth, and reigned in pomp and polish, as Assyrian records now testify."
FR prepares to send Sir George some papers in response to his compliment, but that very month, before she can post them, she learns of his sudden death.
The painting of Sir George Cornewall Lewis above is by Henry Weigall, and is owned by National Museum Wales. It may be seen in the Art Collections Online.
March 25, 1855
"We here are busy about 'The Plurality of Worlds.' Mrs. B____ has lent me Sir David Brewster's Answer, which I like far better, but object to his making the dwellers in the heavenly orbs men, or very nearly so. I believe every orb has its own peculiar race, though I am inclined to believe all have a general resemblance to the human nature, now in union with the Divine . . . ."
In 1855 intelligent men and women debated the existence of life on the other planets of our solar system. Some even believed the sun had inhabitants shielded from its heat by a protective layer of some sort.
Sir David Brewster was asked by the editor of the North British Review to review the essay Of the Plurality of Worlds by William Whewell (1794-1866). Expecting to find sentiments similar to his own, Brewster was surprised to find that "under a title calculated to mislead the public, the author had made an elaborate attack upon opinions consecrated, as I had thought, by Reason and Revelation." Brewster's review expanded into a 278-page rebuttal, More Worlds than One, the Creed of the Philosopher and the Hope of the Christian.
Scientific and religious beliefs were closely intertwined, and men of science were almost as likely to support their views by the Bible as by scientific instruments. FR's interests included all areas of science, particularly astronomy, and so she followed the news of all astronomical discoveries and theories.
Both the books mentioned above are available to read online free.