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Once a heretic, Copernicus now re-buried with Catholic honors

Thanks to DNA analysis and radar, the remains of 16th-century Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus have been identified. Now, the man whose ideas were once considered heresy is now being interred with special honors in a Catholic ceremony.

By Nancy AtkinsonUniverse Today / May 24, 2010

Students hold their school's banner with a portrait of Copernicus in front of the coffin with the remains of astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, in the cathedral in Frombork, northern Poland, Saturday. Copernicus, the 16th-century astronomer whose findings were condemned by the Roman Catholic Church as heretical, was reburied by Polish priests as a hero on Saturday, nearly 500 years after he was laid to rest in an unmarked grave.

Jerzy Mytka/AP

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The remains of astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus were reburied with special honors during a Roman Catholic ceremony, interred beneath the altar of Frombork Cathedral in northern Poland. Copernicus had been buried in an unmarked grave in 1543, and his remains were not conclusively identified until 2005, through DNA testing.

Although he was not the first to ever have the idea, Copernicus proposed that the earth revolved around the sun — contrary to the medieval belief that the earth was the center of the universe.

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Copernicus is best known for his treatise "On the Revolution of the Celestial Spheres." His theories were viewed with suspicion by the Church, and his treatise was not published until after he died.

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Eventually the theory became the cornerstone for a future generation of scientists including Kepler and Galileo, but one of its ardent advocates, Italian cleric Giordano Bruno, was burned at the stake as a heretic in 1600.

The DNA analysis of two strands of hair from a book that Copernicus owned – Calendarium Romanum Magnum, by Johannes Stoeffler – match the DNA of a tooth and femur bone taken from the remains at Frombork.

Radar was used to search for Copernicus' remains underneath the floor of the cathedral.

Source: Reuters

Nancy Atkinson blogs at Universe Today.

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