9:30 A.M., All Saints Day. A huge number of the residents of Lisbon are in their respective churches for special Mass on this Holy Day.
The temblor strikes; the churches crumble and crash in on the worshipers. The candles which the faithful had lighted and the kitchen fires at home ignited the flammable material in the rubble.
The city was soon ablaze. The tsunami crashed into the shore, throwing the ships in harbor up into the city.
The Lisbon Earthquake of November 1, 1755 claimed a massive toll of human life. The difficulty of obtaining an accurate count is evident, as not only were people and property destroyed, so were official records. Some estimates of deaths ranged as high as thirty to seventy thousand, and at least one chronicler claimed it was nearer one hundred thousand. Careful study over the intervening years have led most historians to believe that the death toll was probably in the range of ten thousand.
The event had serious and long-lasting effects on Western thought as theologians and philosophers started to reassess their thinking in light of such a disaster. The eighteenth century belief that this was the “best of all possible worlds” started to crumble in the face of the question, “If this is the best of possible worlds, what would any others be like?”
The event sparked interest, too, in search for a scientific explanation for such phenomena, and partly due to the thought and writings of the young Emmanuel Kant, the science of seismology had its beginnings.
It is estimated that by modern standards, the quake would have measured between 8.7 and 9.0.
History is littered with records of natural disasters. Doubtless such phenomena existed in prehistoric times. They are still with us, witness the destruction on the East Coast of our United States just this week. Likely, there shall be no end to such things so long as the Earth exists.
1. Helena Murteira, Extracts from PhD thesis, University of Edinburgh, 2004