Unearthing the truth about Copernicus

Copernican sun-centred (

When I think of a classic example of a mainstream news story that is in urgent need of GetReligion treatment, the opening goes something like this:

Nicolaus 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.

His 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 usher in the modern scientific age.

The lede above is from an Associated Press story and it is wildly misleading.

What's the big deal? The reporter makes it sound like the Church excommunicated or otherwise punished Copernicus, depriving him of a Christian burial. That's a big deal.

Truth be told, he had been buried in the same cathedral -- even the same exact location -- in which he was reburied. It wasn't like he was discarded into some unimportant plot. Apparently he was buried in the manner that other church canons of the time were. That's because he wasn't exactly famous when he died. He only published the book that really launched the field of astronomy -- On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres -- just before death. The grave wasn't marked but there was a plaque at the cathedral that celebrated his burial there.

You can actually find some of this information in the rest of the story, if you make it to the end and consider what the reporter is actually saying. But the spin on this is really inappropriate.

It's still an important story even if you can't tie the church's condemnation of Copernicanism to the body of Copernicus. As one of the readers who submitted the story pointed out, it's sad when even Wikipedia gets the timeline on these things better than the reporter.

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