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Patrick Sinot


book cover of El Irlandes Astrology by Luis Seaone

Patrick Sinot is an obscure and long-dead Irishman. So obscure that the time of writing (2003) he doesn’t even exist in cyberspace except herein. Despite the inconsequential life this electronic invisibility implies, he turned up 300 years post mortem as the central character in a play published in Buenos Aires in 1959. O Irlandés Astrólogo - The Irish Astrologer - was written by Luis Seoane, an exiled Galician artist, poet and writer, one of only two theatrical works to emerge from his pen.

I first heard about O Irlandés Astrólogo while attending an astrology conference in Galicia in 1998. One of the other speakers, Ana Santorun, was (and still is) an authority on Luis Seoane. She was eager to take the opportunity to meet another Irlandés Astrólogo and tell me about the existence of the play. I resolved to try and find a copy before leaving Santiago de Compostela. Although it had been out of print since 1980, I was fortunate that the publishers of the Galician imprint were based in the city. They found a dusty copy which I purchased gratefully.

I’m interested in any references which bring together astrology and Ireland, and so was curious to read the play. Unfortunately, I don’t speak either Spanish or Gallego (it was a bi-lingual edition). I’m grateful to Fianna Griffin, an astrologer colleague, for taking on the task of translating the play into English.

The setting for the drama was Santiago de Compostela in 1622. It concerns the trials and tribulations of one Patrick Sinot, an Irishman in exile from religious persecution in his homeland. He was employed as a Professor at the University, an unhappy man weighed down by nostalgia for Ireland. The essence of the play is a reflection on the psychological impact and dynamics of exile, a subject familiar to the author who fled Spain to Argentina while Franco was in power. However, the dramatic climax centres on Patrick Sinot’s torture and interrogation for heresy by the Holy Office of the Inquisition. He was accused and finally condemned for practising astrology. As punishment he was burned in effigy and banished from Santiago. Removed from his post at the University, he becomes doublely exiled and is forced to continue playing out the archetypal role of Wanderer.

It was not clear from the play whether Patrick Sinot was a fictional character, or if he was based on an historical person. I re-connected with Ana Santorun and asked if she would mind checking the University of Santiago archives. Sure enough, there was a Professor Patrick Sinot who was condemned by the Inquisition in 1622. Luis Seoane, the play’s author, evidently came across the story while he was living in Santiago de Compostela.

These pages contain the meagre fruits of my research into this rather mysterious Irish astrologer.

The Sinot enigma

Patrick Sinot is not important in the annals of astrology's history. He didn't write any books on the subject, didn't invent new techniques, and didn't hold a prestigious position as an astrologer in any imperial court. In that respect, he is similar to thousands of nameless astrologers from the past and thousands of contemporary astrologers whose names will fade from memory in due course. On the other hand, he has been marked out in an unusual way. Natural curiosity would lead one to ponder the circumstances of an individual who features as the central character in a theatrical drama based on episodes from his life. Particularly an Irish character in a play written in Argentina in 1959 by an exiled Galician artist and poet. This is an interesting fate - the preservation of the memory of one's existence in a theatrical context, and hints at an interesting life.

Sinot's story, insofar as I have been able to uncover it, is intriguing and enigmatic. His heresy in the eyes of the Inquisition was two-fold and to some extent contradictory. On the one hand he practised a forbidden form of astrology very much rooted in the pre-modern era, and on the other he seems to have been an early follower of the heretical Copernican heliocentric theory which postulated that the Earth moved in orbit around the Sun. He even seems to have dabbled with empirical scientific investigations. In this respect he can be seen as a transitional figure straddling the pre-modern and modern worlds, a progressive thinker with a respect for tradition.

What adds to the enigma are circumstances in his life 20 years prior to his tribulations at the hands of the Inquisition. For Patrick Sinot appears to have been involved as an agent in Spain acting on behalf of the Irish nobility during the Elizabethan Wars in Ireland. The archival material which points to this likelihood generates a major conundrum. Contradictory references give the impression that there may have been two Patrick Sinots living in Galicia at the same time. Is this impression correct? If not, was he leading a double life, or is there a more mundane explanation?

The combination of these threads weaves a web that is highly seductive if one happens to enjoy detective work. Rather like a severely damaged fresco in a 15th century chapel, much of the picture will remain the subject of speculation. At the same time, whatever is reliably in view is at least colourful. All in all, there is a story around Patrick Sinot worth the telling.

I’m indebted to Ana Santorun for all her help ‘on site’ in Santiago and for all the many ways she has contributed to this project. Ciaran O'Scea very generously passed on information about Sinot which he had uncovered while researching his PhD thesis at the University in Florence on the Irish community in Galicia during the 16th century. Fianna Griffin’s kind offer to translate O Irlandés Astrólogo is very much appreciated - without her input, Sinot would still be trapped in a play which has yet to receive its first professional performance.

Copyright © 2003 Bill Sheeran. All Rights Reserved.