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The strange story of the grave of Copernicus

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Jan 15, 2024, 1:35:28 PMJan 15

The strange story of the grave of Copernicus
By Darius von Guttner Sporzynski published 1 day ago
Nicholas Copernicus was the astronomer who, five centuries ago,
explained that Earth revolves around the Sun, rather than vice versa.

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Astronomer Copernicus, or Conversations with God (1873) (Image credit:
Jan Matejko / Wikimedia Commons)
Nicholas Copernicus was the astronomer who, five centuries ago,
explained that Earth revolves around the Sun, rather than vice versa. A
true Renaissance man, he also practised as a mathematician, engineer,
author, economic theorist and medical doctor.

Upon his death in 1543 in Frombork, Poland, Copernicus was buried in the
local cathedral. Over the subsequent centuries, the location of his
grave was lost to history.

Who was Copernicus?

Nicholas Copernicus, or Mikołaj Kopernik in Polish, was born in Toruń in
1473. He was the youngest of four children born to a local merchant.

After his father’s death, Copernicus’s uncle assumed responsibility for
his education. The young scholar initially studied at the University of
Kraków between 1491 and 1494, and later at Italian universities in
Bologna, Padua and Ferrara.

After studying medicine, canon law, mathematical astronomy, and
astrology, Copernicus returned home in 1503. He then worked for his
influential uncle, Lucas Watzenrode the Younger, who was the
Prince-Bishop of Warmia.

a portrait of a man in a red top. he looks like lord farquad.

A portrait of Nicolaus Copernicus from the town hall of Toruń (circa
1580). (Image credit: Unknown artist / Wikimedia)
Copernicus worked as a physician while continuing his research in
mathematics. At that time, both astronomy and music were considered
branches of mathematics.

During this period, he formulated two influential economic theories. In
1517, he developed the quantity theory of money, which was later
re-articulated by John Locke and David Hume, and popularised by Milton
Friedman in the 1960s. In 1519, Copernicus also introduced the concept
now known as Gresham’s law, a monetary principle addressing the
circulation and valuation of money.

a red brick cathedral stands in a grassy area surrounded by like
buildings. Green trees stretch to the horizon.

Nicholas Copernicus was buried in Frombork Cathedral. (Image credit:
Holger Weinant / Wikimedia, CC BY-SA)
The Copernican model of the universe
The cornerstone of Copernicus’s contributions to science was his
revolutionary model of the universe. Contrary to the prevailing
Ptolemaic model, which maintained that Earth was the stationary centre
of the universe, Copernicus argued that Earth and other planets revolve
around the Sun.

Copernicus was further able to compare the sizes of the planetary orbits
by expressing them in terms of the distance between the Sun and Earth.

Copernicus feared how his work would be received by the church and
fellow scholars. His magnum opus, “De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium”
(On the Movement of the Celestial Spheres), was only published just
before his death in 1543.

The publication of this work set the stage for groundbreaking shifts in
our understanding of the universe, paving the way for future astronomers
such as Galileo, who was born more than 20 years after Copernicus’s death.

The search for Copernicus
The Frombork Cathedral serves as the final resting place of more than
100 people, most of whom lie in unnamed graves.

There were several unsuccessful attempts to locate Copernicus’s remains,
dating as far back as the 16th and 17th centuries. Another failed
attempt was made by the French emperor Napoleon after the 1807 Battle of
Eylau. Napoleon held Copernicus in high regard as a polymath,
mathematician and astronomer.

inside a cathedral with high arched ceilings

Historians believed Copernicus would have been buried near a particular
altar in Frombork Cathedral. (Image credit: Holger Weinant / Wikimedia,
In 2005, a group of Polish archaeologists took up the search.

They were guided by the theory of historian Jerzy Sikorski, who claimed
that Copernicus, serving as the Canon of Frombork Cathedral, would have
been buried near the cathedral altar for which he was responsible during
his tenure. This was the Altar of Saint Wacław, now known as the Altar
of the Holy Cross.

Thirteen skeletons were discovered near this altar, including an
incomplete skeleton belonging to a male aged between 60 and 70 years.
This particular skeleton was identified as the closest match to that of

Forensic science
The skull of the skeleton served as the basis for a facial reconstruction.

In addition to morphological studies, DNA analysis is often used for the
identification of historical or ancient remains. In the case of the
presumed remains of Copernicus, a genetic identification was possible
due to the well-preserved state of the teeth.

a skull, shown profile and head-on

A skull believed to belong to Copernicus. (Image credit: Dariusz Zajdel
/ Centralne Laboratorium Kryminalistyczne Policji)
A significant challenge lay in identifying a suitable source of
reference material. There were no known remains of any relatives of

An unlikely find
In 2006, however, a new source of DNA reference material came to life.
An astronomical reference book used by Copernicus for many years was
found to contain hair among its pages.

This book had been taken to Sweden as war booty following the Swedish
invasion of Poland in the mid-17th century. It is currently in the
possession of the Museum Gustavianum at Uppsala University.

A meticulous examination of the book revealed several hairs, thought
likely to belong to the book’s primary user, Copernicus himself.
Consequently, these hairs were assessed as potential reference material
for genetic comparison with the teeth and bone matter recovered from the

The hairs were compared with the DNA from the teeth and bones of the
discovered skeleton. Both the mitochondrial DNA from the teeth and the
skeletal sample matched those of the hairs, strongly suggesting that the
remains were indeed those of Nicholas Copernicus.The multidisciplinary
effort, involving archaeological excavation, morphological studies and
advanced DNA analysis, has led to a compelling conclusion.

The remains discovered near the Altar of the Holy Cross in Frombork
Cathedral are highly likely to be those of Nicholas Copernicus. This
monumental find not only sheds light on the final resting place of one
of the most influential figures in the history of science, but also
showcases the depth and sophistication of modern scientific methods in
corroborating historical data.

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Darius von Guttner Sporzynski
Darius von Guttner Sporzynski
Historian, Australian Catholic University
Darius is a historian of East Central Europe with broad interest in
cultural aspects of transmission of ideas across time and space. He is
interested in global history and pursues interdisciplinary research and
teaching subjects which examine history from a global perspective.

He is researching the common patterns which emerged across all cultures,
in aspects of world history which have drawn people together - the
patterns that reveal the diversity of the human experience.

Darius has a strong research interest in education. In addition to the
interest in curriculum (design and development, and policy
implementation and evaluation), he researches the nexus between research
orientated teaching and learning and the disparity between the
methodology of teaching of a discipline like history at secondary and
tertiary levels.

After a decade of teaching outside metropolitan centres he is working
collaboratively on the issues affecting education in regional settings,
specifically on regional culturally, linguistically and economically
diverse (CLED) communities of learning and the use of emerging
technologies and the issues affecting funding for humanities.

Jim Wilkins

Jan 15, 2024, 6:23:09 PMJan 15
"a425couple" wrote in message news:NVepN.293983$p%Mb.1...@fx15.iad...


The strange story of the grave of Copernicus
Another failed
attempt was made by the French emperor Napoleon after the 1807 Battle of
Eylau. Napoleon held Copernicus in high regard as a polymath,
mathematician and astronomer.

Napoleon was a mathematical genius himself, and a promoter of science. He
established the world's first Air Force in 1796, of balloon-borne artillery
observers, and inspired the development of canned food. English-language
history doesn't do him justice.

I saw the plain wooden coffins of Frederick the Great of Prussia and his
father on sawhorses in the entry to Hohenzollern Castle. After Germany
reunified he was returned to his original burial site on the formerly Soviet
side. Like most preserved castles it was bare of furniture though
magnificently decorated. Visitors were issued fuzzy overshoes and encouraged
to help dust and polish the floor of the great banquet hall by skating
around on it.

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