Almost a billion and a half people worldwide require glasses or some other form of vision correction to see. If you wear glasses, you have medieval friar Blessed Jordan of Pisa to thank.

Blessed Jordan of Pisa was born in 1255 in Pisa. 25 years later, he joined the Dominicans in 1280 and would later go on to be educated at the University of Paris in France and become lector at Santa Maria Novella Church in Florence. Throughout his life, he became well known as a preacher in and around Florence – and for his charity of giving away eyeglasses.

Glasses were most likely invented in Pisa sometime around the year 1290, but remained relatively unknown as the inventor was hesitant to produce them for others or share his designs with others. In a sermon he delivered on February 23, 1306, Jordan of Pisa writes:

“It is not yet twenty years since there was found the art of making eyeglasses, which make for good vision. And it is so short a time that this new art, never before extant, was discovered. I saw the one who first discovered and practiced it, and I talked to him.”

Portrait of Dominican Cardinal Hugh of Saint-Cher featuring the earliest depictions of eyeglasses, 1352 A.D.

Jordan of Pisa and his colleague Friar Alessandro della Spina of Pisa were soon making eyeglasses, giving them away for free to those in need.

“Eyeglasses, having first been made by someone else, who was unwilling to share them, he made them and shared them with everyone with a cheerful and willing heart.”

With their charity of giving away eyeglasses, the visionary friars sparked an optics revolution. By 1301, there were guild regulations concerning the sale of eyeglasses in Venice. Eyeglasses soon spread all around the globe, since then helping millions see where they once could not.

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  1. This fact was deserving of more publicity than it has received so far (I knew for example that bifocals are attributed to Benjamin Franklin, but I didn’t know this). Thanks for spreading the good word about this.


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