Sunday, May 23rd, 2010
In 2005 archaeologists excavated Copernicus’ remains from an unmarked grave underneath a side chapel in Frombork Cathedral, the church where he had been a canon when he died in 1543. Forensic researchers examined the remains over the next few years, creating a facial reconstruction (eerily reminiscent of James Cromwell) from the skull and running DNA tests against hairs found in a book Copernicus owned. The latter proved quite conclusively that the bones were indeed the earthly remains of Copernicus.
Now his remains have been re-interred with all the Catholic pomp and attention due a star of his magnitude.
Mind you, he wasn’t intentionally shoved into an unmarked grave. When Copernicus died his heliocentric theory was just beginning to be discussed in scientific circles, so there was no question of him being considered a heretic. He didn’t even get a published copy of “On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres” until the day he died. He was just an obscure canon and he got a correspondingly obscure burial.
He did have some run-ins with his superiors, but they weren’t about whether the earth revolved around the sun or vice versa. One was about his refusal to give up his mistress. He was also suspected of harboring secret Lutheran sympathies.
Anyway, those days are over now.
On Saturday, his remains were blessed with holy water by some of Poland’s highest-ranking clerics before an honor guard ceremoniously carried his coffin through the imposing red brick 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 now identifies him as the founder of the heliocentric theory, but also a church canon, a cleric ranking below a priest. The tombstone is decorated with a model of the solar system, a golden sun encircled by six of the planets.
He was also lain in state in a city nearby, and on Friday the coffin with his remains were taken on a tour of local spots to which he had connections in life before being brought to the cathedral for the funeral.