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Sunday, 20 July 2014

Nicolaus Copernicus

Nicolaus Copernicus was born on February 19, 1473 in the Polish city of Toruń, His father Nikolas, was a wealthy businessman and copper trader, Nicolaus was ten years of age when his father died.

Little is known of his mother, Barbara Watzenrode, but she appears to have predeceased her husband.

His maternal uncle, Lucas Watzenrode, a church canon (a church administrator) and later the Prince-Bishop governor of Warmia, raised Nicolaus and his three other siblings after the death of his father.

His brother Andrew became canon in Frombork. A sister, Barbara, became a Benedictine nun and the other sister, Katharina, married a businessman and city councillor, Barthel Gertner.

His uncle saw to it that his nephew obtained a solid education at the best universities. Copernicus entered the University of Kraków in 1491, studied the liberal arts for four years without receiving a degree, and then, like many Poles of his social class, went to Italy to study medicine and law.

Copernicus encountered astronomy for the first time at the University of Kraków, thanks to his teacher Albert Brudzewski. This science soon fascinated him, as his books (stolen by Swedes during The Deluge, and now in Uppsala's library) show. In 1503 he received his doctoral degree in canon law.

Through his Bishop uncle's influence, he was appointed a canon in the cathedral of Frauenberg in 1495 remaining in that office for the rest of his life without being ordained.

Copernicus worked for years with the Prussian diet on monetary reform and published some studies about the value of money.

He lived at Frauenberg from 1514 in a house belonging to one of the canons. It is said there can be still be seen the holes in the walls of his apartment through which Copernicus used to watch the stars.

Nicolaus Copernicus portrait from Town Hall in Toruń - 1580)

He invented a hydraulic machine to supply the houses of the canons he lived with in Frauenberg with water from an adjacent stream.

Copernicus completed his revolutionary book On the Revolutionary of Heavenly Bodies by 1532 but feared the reaction to his theory that the Earth revolves round the Sun rather than the current established teaching that the Earth is at the center of the universe..

His friend Georg Rhaethicus kept a copy of the book until Copernicus was virtually on his deathbed when it was finally published.

Cropped version of title page

On the Revolutions of the Earth Through the Heavens included the first use of the word "revolution" in that context. His publisher claimed that this theory was merely a mathematical contrivance.

Copernicus was correct in his concern as it was greeted with a hostile reception as many claimed this meant that man no longer can be viewed as the ultimate creation. The Pope forbade Christians from reading it and Luther referred to Confucius’ theory as “anti Biblical and intolerable.”

Astronomer Copernicus, or Conversations with God, by Matejko. In background: Frombork Cathedral.

On the Revolutionary of Heavenly Bodies was a financial flop as in 1543 over priced and allowed to go out of print.

Copernicus was seized with apoplexy and paralysis in late 1542, and he died aged 70 on May 24, 1543.

Little attention was paid to Copernicus' system until Galileo a century later discovered evidence to support it. On March 5, 1616, On the Revolutionary of Heavenly Bodies was placed on the Index of Forbidden Books by Roman Catholic Church (more than 70 years after its publication).

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