Monday, May 24, 2010

"Sorry, Copernicus..."

Today’s newspapers carried two interesting stories about two great figures from history…

Nicolaus Copernicus reburied as universal hero

NICOLAUS Copernicus, the 16th-century astronomer whose findings were condemned by the Catholic Church as heretical, was reburied by Polish priests as a hero on Saturday, nearly 500 years after he was laid to rest in disgrace in an unmarked grave.

Copernicus's burial in a tomb in the cathedral where he once served as a church canon and doctor indicates how far the church has come in making peace with the scientist whose revolutionary theory that the earth revolves around the sun helped bring in the modern scientific age. Copernicus, who lived from 1473 to 1543, died as a little-known astronomer working in a remote part of northern Poland. He spent years developing his theory, which was condemned as heresy by the church because it showed the earth and humanity were not the centre of the universe. After Copernicus's death, his body stayed in an unmarked grave under the floor of the cathedral in Frombork, on the Baltic coast.

On Saturday, his remains were blessed with holy water by some of Poland's highest Catholic clerics before an honour guard carried his coffin through the cathedral and lowered it back into the same spot where part of his skull and other bones were found in 2005. A black granite tombstone, decorated with a model of the solar system, now identifies Copernicus as the founder of heliocentric theory, and as a church canon, a cleric ranking below a priest.

Scientists began searching graves for the astronomer's remains in 2004 and eventually turned up the skull and bones of a 70-year-old man - the age Copernicus was when he died. A computer reconstruction made by forensic police based on the skull showed a broken nose and other features that resemble Copernicus's self-portrait. In a later stage of the investigation, DNA taken from the teeth and bones matched that from hairs found in one of the astronomer's books, leading the scientists to conclude they had finally found Copernicus.

The Australian, 24 May 2010

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