Ecclesiastical new moon

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An ecclesiastical new moon is the first day of a lunar month (an ecclesiastical moon) in an ecclesiastical lunar calendar. Such months have a whole number of days, 29 or 30, whereas true synodic months can vary from about 29.27 to 29.83 days in length. Medieval authors equated the ecclesiastical new moon with a new crescent moon, but it is not a phase of the true moon. If the ecclesiastical lunar calendar is accurate, the ecclesiastical new moon can be any day from the day of the astronomical new moon or dark moon to two days later (see table). The ecclesiastical calendar valid for the Julian and Gregorian calendar are described in detail by Grotefend,[1] Ginzel[2] and in the Explanatory Supplement to The Astronomical Ephemeris.[3]

The ecclesiastical new moon which falls on or next after March 8 is of special importance, since it is the paschal new moon that begins the paschal lunar month (see table). The fourteenth day of the same lunar month is the first of the calendar year to occur on or next after March 21. This fourteenth day was called the paschal full moon by medieval computists. Easter is the following Sunday.

Calendar pages in medieval liturgical books indicated the ecclesiastical new moons by writing the Golden Number to the left of the day of the month on which the ecclesiastical new moon would occur in the year of that Golden Number. In some places the age of the moon was announced daily in the office of Prime at the reading of the martyrology.[4]

When in the 13th century Roger Bacon complained about the discrepancy between the ecclesiastical moon and the observed lunar phases, he specifically mentioned the discrepancy involving the ecclesiastical new moon

Quilibet computista novit quod fallit primatio per tres dies vel quatuor his temporibus; et quilibet rusticus potest in coelo hunc errorem contemplari. (Any computist knows that the prime [of the moon] is off by three or four days in our time; and any rustic can see this error in the sky.)[5]

These complaints were finally addressed by the construction of the Gregorian calendar.

A check can be made on the difference between the astronomical new moon and the ecclesiastical new moon. The following table gives a comparison for 2010. All times are Greenwich Mean Time. Coordinated Universal Time is the same with a tolerance of 0.9 seconds either way.

New moon in 2010[6] Ecclesiastical new moon, 2010[7]
January 15 07h January 17
February 14 03h February 15
March 15 21h March 17
April 14 12h April 15
May 14 01h May 15
June 12 11h June 13
July 11 20h July 13
August 10 03h August 11
September 8 10h September 10
October 7 19h October 9
November 6 05h November 8
December 5 18h December 7

The long term accuracy of the Gregorian ecclesiastical lunar calendar is remarkable. It will be in error by one day in about 73 500 years while the error with respect to the tropical year will be one day in about 3320 years.[8]

The following table gives the ecclesiastical new moon used for determining Easter (in the Gregorian system) for a range of years.

Year Gregorian paschal new moon Days in paschal lunar month
2014 April 1 29
2015 March 21 29
2016 March 10 29
2017 March 29 29
2018 March 18 29
2019 April 5 30
2020 March 26 29
2021 March 15 29
2022 April 3 29
2023 March 23 29
2024 March 12 29
2025 March 31 29
2026 March 20 29
2027 March 9 29
2028 March 28 29
2029 March 17 29
2030 April 4 30
2031 March 25 29
2032 March 14 29


  1. ^ Grotefend, Hermann (1891). Zeitrechnung des deutschen Mittelalters und der Neuzeit, Bd. 1. Hannover, Germany: Hahn'sche Buchhandlung.
  2. ^ Ginzel, Freidrich Karl (1914). Handbuch der mathematischen und technischen Chronologie. Leipzig, Germany: Hinrichs.
  3. ^ Explanatory Supplement to The Astronomical Ephemeris. 1961.
  4. ^ At medieval Exeter Cathedral, it was the next day's date and age of the moon that were announced. Et omnibus in locis suis sedentibus sit ibi quidam puer...paratus ad legendum leccionem de Martilogio, absque Iube domine, sed pronunciondo primo loco numerum Nonarum, Iduum, Kalendarum, et etatem lune qualis erit in crastino... (And when all are sitting in their places let a boy be there ready to read the Martyrology beginning with Iube domine, but first saying the number of Nones, Ides, Kalends, and what the age of the moon will be on the morrow...) J.N. Dalton, ed., Ordinale Exon. vol. 1, Henry Bradshaw Society, London, 1909, p. 37.
  5. ^ Roger Bacon, Opus Tertium LXX, in J. S. Brewer, ed., Fr. Rogeri Bacon Opera quaedam hactenus Inedita. Vol. 1. H.M. Stationery Office, 1859 (Kraus Reprint 1965), p. 282.
  6. ^ From the U.S. Naval Observatory's Principal phase calculator Archived 2016-09-30 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ From the Explanatory Supplement to the Ephemeris and the American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac, H. M. Stationery Office, London, 1966, fourth revised printing, 1977, page 426.
  8. ^ Lichtenberg, Heiner (1994). "Die Struktur des Gregorianischen Kalenders anhand der Schwankungen des Osterdatums entschlüsselt". Sterne und Weltraum. 33 (3): 194–201. Bibcode:1994S&W....33..194L.

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