I was introduced to The Scientist Pope through an act of grace. Writing my previous book, The Far Traveler, about an adventurous Viking woman, I found myself making an imaginary pilgrimage to Rome just after the year 1000. Wondering which pope (if any) Gudrid the Far-Traveler had met, I discovered Gerbert of Aurillac, Pope Sylvester II.

I was astonished. Nothing in my many years of reading about the Middle Ages had led me to suspect that the pope in the year 1000 was the leading mathematician and astronomer of his day.

Nor was his science just a sidelight. According to a chronicler who knew him, he rose from humble beginnings to the highest office in the Christian Church “on account of his scientific knowledge.”

To my mind, scientific knowledge and medieval Christianity had nothing in common. I was wrong.

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