A long, long time ago in a country far, far away a baby boy was born. He was the youngest of the four children born to a merchant and his wife. At that time no one even expected the impact on our understanding of the universe and on the history of mankind that the boy would have. He’s known all over the world as the one who stopped the Sun and moved the Earth. The man in question is Mikołaj Kopernik (also known as Nicolaus Copernicus), who was born in the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland on February 19 1473.
We believe there is no need to introduce his heliocentric theory, which he began working on once he completed all his studies in Poland and in Italy. But no doubt it is worth trying to imagine how much knowledge it must have required to come up with it, and how much courage to propagate it! His book, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) was published just before his death in 1543, giving a start to the Copernican Revolution.
But did you know that Copernicus had many more talents? Apart from being an astronomer, he also had a good understanding of mathematics, law, economics, medicine and the art of translation. He spoke Latin, German, Polish, Greek and Italian.
Monuments to honor Copernicus can be found all over Poland and in other parts of the world. Even in Canada (Montreal) and the USA (there’s actually more than one, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Utica - they all have their own monuments). But how do we know what Copernicus looked like? There are numerous portraits of him, all of which have been painted long after his death, which explains why they differ a lot from one another. Some theories say that in the 16th century there used to be a portrait painted by Copernicus himself. Unfortunately, the alleged portrait was destroyed at the end of 16th century. The Strasbourg cathedral has a portrait of Copernicus holding a lily of the valley in his hand, which is thought by some to be a copy of the self-portrait, but there is no proof. There isn’t any proof of Copernicus having been a painter either, there are no other supposed paintings by him and he doesn’t mention painting in any of his letters or notes.
In 2005 archeologists found Copernicus’ remains in the Frombork cathedral. Scientists prepared a picture of what Copernicus might have looked like at the age of 70, basing on the shape of his skull (by the way, how unusual to live such a long life in those times!). The computer-generated visualization is comparable to the most famous Toruń portrait of Copernicus.
Did the astronomer have a family? No. His heliocentric theory was his only child. But in his late years a scandal broke out, as people started spreading rumors of him having a love affair with his housemaid, Anne Schilling. Not only was she much younger than Copernicus, but also she was a married woman!
Whether the rumors were true or not, it is hard to assess. The story of the great astronomer’s life is full of question marks and there are a lot of myths, legends and anecdotes connected to it. One of the funniest makes Copernicus the inventor of… the sandwich!
If you would like to learn more about Copernicus and visit the beautiful city of Toruń, where he was born, we encourage you to book the Polish Delight tour. Don’t forget to keep your eyes wide open and count all the Copernicus Monuments an Copernicus Streets you pass on your way!