As Professor Herschbach explains, at the time of Franklins discovery,
thunder and lightning were considered tokens of divine displeasure.
It was often considered impious to prevent or assuage lightnings
damage. So strong was this belief, that the words Fulgura Frango
were inscribed on European church bells with the belief that ringing
church bells caused the lightning to disperse.
Over a thirty-three year period in Germany during the mid- 1700s, over
300 church towers were struck by lightning, and more than 100 bell ringers
In 1767, 17 years after Franklin's discovery, lightning rods had not
been installed on the Church of San Nazaro in Venice. The church was
struck by lightning and the 200,000 pounds of gunpowder stored in its
vaults exploded. One-sixth of the city was destroyed and over 3,000
lives were lost.