Life of Nicolaus Copernicus

19.II.1473 Nicolaus Copernicus born at Torun, Poland
1483 Copernicus’ father dies
1489 Lukasz Watzenrode, Copernicus’ maternal uncle and guardian, elected Bishop of Warmia.
1491 Nicolaus Copernicus leaves the parish school of St. John, Torun for the University in Kraków.
1491-1495 Period of studies at the University in Krakow.
1496 Copernicus begins Law studies at Bologna.
1497 Copernicus join the Chapter of Warmia, holding the post of Canon of Frombork in absentia through his vicars. His name is entered into the students’ corporation book.
1500 Copernicus articled in the Pontifical Chancelleria at Rome. Delivers a public lecture on mathematics.
1501 Copernicus completes his fourth year of studies; his three year leave of absence from duties as Canon to the Chapter House expires; he goes to Frombork and requests two year extension of his leave to complete his studies. The Chapter approves his request. He begins the study of Medicine at Padua while continuing to read Law.
1503 Copernicus receives another appointment as Canon-Scholar at the Holy Cross Church in Wroclaw.
his post is also held in absentia through vicars. Awarded Doctor of Canon Law degree at Ferrara. Completes second and final year of Medicine at Padua. Receives a licence to practice medicine.
1504-1507 Copernicus and his uncle, the Bishop of Warmia, attend local congresses of the Estates, i.e. conventions for the election and instruction of local deputies to the lower house of the Polish Parliament (Sejm) in Royal Prussia, at Malbork. Elblag, and Torun
1507 Chapter appoints Copernicus private physician to the Bishop. Works on his Commentariolus which presents theories on motions of celestial bodies containing the first synopsis of his heliocentric theory. This treatise is sent to various persons via a series of letters.
1509-1510 Leaves Bishop’s Court at Lidzbark Warmiński and moves to Frombork.
1510-1512 Copernicus draws up a map of Warmia and the western borders of Royal Prussia for the Poznan convention of the King’s Council. Copernicus continues to hold both the office of Chancellor as well as Visitor in the Chapter House.
1511 Appointed Chief Bursar in the Chapter.
1512 Copernicus and the other members of the Chapter of Frombork swear allegiance to King Sigismundus I of Poland.
1512-1513 Reappointed Chancellor of the Chapter.
1513 In response to an appeal by Lateran Council, Copernicus compiles a proposal for the reform of the calendar and sends it to Rome.
1514-1516 Frombork Chapter relieves Copernicus of his administrative duties. Copernicus purchases a house convenient for his astronomical observations; he has an observation platform built in the back for his astronomical instruments.
1516-1519 Copernicus is promoted to Administrator for the Chapter property, performing his duties from Olsztyn.
1517 Copernicus carries out 29 rural inspections, and arranges to have unpopulated areas in the Chapter’s estates settled.
1518 Copernicus carries out 16 rural inspections; returns to work on the observation of the planets after on intermission of several years.
1519 Copernicus draws up a map of the western part of the Vistula delta; completes the first draft of his treatise on the minting of money and submits it to the convention of the Prussian Estates. Carries out 18 rural inspections. Resigns as Chapter Administrator and resumes his former position as Chancellor of the Frombork Chapter.
1519-1520 Outbreak of war between Poland and the Teutonic Knights.
1520 Copernicus is part of the Polish embassy to the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights requesting restoration of Braniewo, captured by the Teutonic Knights. Reappointed Administrator of the Chapter property. Copernicus organises the defence of Olsztyn against the Teutonic Knights.
1521 Appointed Commissioner for Warmia with the task of negotiating for the Warmian territories seized by the Teutonic Knights; resigns as Administrator and moves back to Frombork, accepting appointment as Visitor.
1522 Copernicus delivers his treatise on the minting of coinage at the Congress of the Estates of Royal Prussia at Grudziadz.
1523 Appointed General Administrator for the See of Warmia.
1523-1524 Appointed to serve dually as the Chapter’s Envoy and Chancellor.
1524 Publishes De Octava Sphoaera, a treatise addressed to Bernard Wapowski, Canon of the Church at Kraków and Secretary to the King of Poland in which Copernicus’ refutes the calculations of Joannes Werner, an astronomer of Nuremberg, regarding the“Motion of the Eigth Sphere”.
1524-1525 Reappointed Chancellor as well as Envoy of the Chapter.
1526 Assists Bernard Wapowski, the King’s Secretary, with mapping the Kingdom of Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
1528 Works on the final draft of the treatise on the minting of money.
1528-1529 Reappointed Chancellor of the Chapter.
1530-1532 Appointed Purveyor to the Chapter of Frombork.
1531-1537 Reappointed Visitor for the Chapter.
1537 Receives royal confirmation of his candidacy as one of four contenders for appointment to the See of Warmia.
1537-1538 Appointed inspector of arms and defences in the fortress of Frombork as well as supervisor of wills.
1538 Resigns as Cannon of the Church of the Holy Cross on Wroclaw. Copernicus had never been to Wroclaw but carried out his duties through a local vicar. Appointed Deputy for the Chapter.
1538-1539 Bishop Joannes Dantiscus (Dantyszek) suspects Copernicus of living in concubinage, orders him to send away his housekeeper, and instigates canon law proceedings against him. While Coppernicus complies with the request, nothing came of the charges which were eventually dropped.
1539 Georg Joachim von Lauchen (Rheticus), Professor of Mathematics from Wittenberg, visits Copernicus to learn more about his theory and to assist Copernicus in getting De Revolutionibus published.
1540 Appointed Chief Treasurer of the Chapter’s building fund.
1541 After much work on revisions, Copernicus gives Rheticus the manuscript of De Revolutionibus for publication.
1542 Copernicus’ book on Trigonometry, an extract from certain chapters of De Revolutionibus, published at Wittenberg.
1543 De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium published in Nuremberg.
21.V.1543 Copernicus dies at Frombork

Nicolas Copernicus

Nicolas Copernicus is one of the most fascinating personages of the Renaissance. He was principally known for his heliocentric theory, which gave the modern views of the structure of the Universe their start. Today, Copernicus?s theory that Earth is not the center of the Universe but along with all the other planets circles around the Sun is considered to be quite obvious. However, at the time the theory was voiced, it was a revolutionary view and greatly influenced all natural and philosophical sciences.

The followers of Copernicus

Tycho Brahe, Galileo, John Kepler, Isaac Newton (who had the newest and the most accurate sky observation instruments) provided new proof of the accuracy of the heliocentric theory’s principles. The final verification and formulation of Copernicus’s theory took place upon Kepler’s introduction of the planet’s ellipticas orbits and Newton’s formulation of the basic laws of mechanics and gravity.

Family home

Nicolas Copernicus was born in Thorn now Toruń, Poland on February 19, 1473. He was the youngest of the four children of Nicolas Copernicus, a Toruń merchant, and his wife Barbara nee. Watzenrode. Copernicus was 10 years old when his father died. Their maternal ncle – Łukasz (Lucas) Watzenrode – the future Bischop of Warmia (Ermland) – took the orphaned family under his care.


Thanks to his uncle?s care Nicolas received a solid education at the best universities. After completing his studies at St. John’s Church in Toruń parochial school, he began his university education at the Kraków Academy – The Jagiellonian University. The time of his higher education coincided with the expansion and emphasis on the astronomy studies at the Academy. Copernicus’s teacher was Wojciech from Brudzew, whose lectures were attended by students coming from Germany, Hungary and Sweden. Copernicus left the Kraków Academy with a a general education of liberal arts and a love of astronomy.

Later, he studied law and medicine in Italy and additionally studied mathematics and astronomy. In 1496, he began to study law in Bologne. In 1500, he underwent his legal practice at the papal law offices in Rome. It was here; in the Eternal City, that he publicly conducted a lecture on mathematics. In 1501, Copernicus gained permission to study medicine in Padua. He received his doctorate in canonical law from the Ferrara University and at the same time received his license to practice medicine. At this time, he left Italy and came to Warmia (Ermland), where his uncle Łukasz Watzenrode was the Bishop since 1485.

Warmia (Ermland)

Warmia is a historically rich area of Poland. Until 1466, it was a part of the Teutonic Knights Order territory. In 1243, four episcopates were appropriated in Prussia, among the Warmia (Ermland) episcopate. In the process of the diocese allotment, the Bishop of Warmia received one third of its territory as his wages. The Bishop shared a part of the received dioceses with a the canonic chapter. Between the years of 1466 and 1772, Warmia was incorporated into in the Polish Crown territories.

A sojourn in Lidzbark Warmiński (Heilsberg)

On behalf of the Bishop’s of Warmia Copernikus’ uncles’s, Łukasz Watzenrode’s, intercessions, in 1497 Copernicus was admitted to the canonic Warmia Czhapter. During the first years he lived in the Bischop’s palace in Lidzbark Warmiński (Heilsberg) as a personal secretary and doctor to the Bishop. He participated in the political lifer at his uncle’s side, attending the congresses of the Royal Prussia’s States: Malbork, Elbląg and Toruń.

He dedicated his free time to putting on paper his views and theories. In Lidzbark he wrote „An essay on the movement of heavenly bodies” – the first outline of his theory. He also translated into Latin – „the Moral, idyllic and love letters” by a Greek poet and moralizer Theophylactus Simocattes. They were published in 1509 in Kraków with a dedication to his uncle, Bishop Łukasz (Lukas). By doing this, he showed his appreciation to his protector. Soon after, he left the court in Lidzbark and went to Frombork.


A small town over the Vistula Bay became the seat of the Ermland Canonic Chapter in 1278. A cathedral was raised in the XV century on a natural defensive hillside surrounded by high walls. On the neighboring hillside, two of the canon houses – canonries were built. Copernicus moved into one of them. In doing so he began a lifer, which was ruled by the Chapters statutes.

Life in the Canon Chapter

A Cathedral Chapter is a college of clergy prelates and canons established to perfect the cult of God in the cathedral lifer. The Cathedral Chapter of Warmia in the XVI century had extensive authoritative rights. It had the right to elect a bishop and served to help in the administration of the diocese. It constituted its own legal body had its own residence, belfry, treasury, archive collections, colors and uniform, a crested shield and its own seal. The third part of Warmia comprised of the goods from which it had a continuous profit flow.

The canonry ensured a considerable wealth but it also involved a wide spectrum of responsibilities. The most important of these pertained to the service of God, choir prayer and liturgical service. As during these times canons quite often did not have priestly wows, the sacral services were fulfilled in their name by the vicars. The canons had other duties deriving from their real estate, cathedral care, and maintenance of its surrounding fortification. The canons often rotated among several offices. Copernicus was granted leave of fulfilling these duties for only three years. During his life in Warmia (Ermland), lasting ower thirty years, he had many functions: a chancellor, a controller, the supervisor of the provisions accounts, the Chapter’s goods administrator, the Chapter’s envoy, the Chapter?s table cerataker, the bulding cash distribution wverseer, a clerk responsible for the armament of Frombork’s (Froyenbrg’s) fortress and a clerk in charge of overseeing the processing of wills. Fulfilling these duties, sometimes two simultaneously, Nicolas often had to leave his home in Frombork (Frauenburg).

The Administrator’s Offices of the Chapter’s Estate were located in Olsztyn (Allenstein). In fulfilling, the duties of his appointed position Copernicus made approximately 60 location trips to villages of the area between the years of 1516 to 1519, populating the empty Chapter lands with settlers. In 1520, as an Administrator, he organized the defense of Olsztyn against the invasion of the Teutonic Knights Order. He knew Warmia (Ermland) well and actively participated in the political and economic life of Royal Prussia. Between the years of 1510 and 1512, he prepared map of Warmia (Ermland), the western borders of Royal Prussia, designed especially for the royal council congress in Poznań. At the Royal Prussia’s States congress in Grudziądz in 1522 he presented a „Coin Treatise”, a reform of currency program. Copernicus also, along with Bernard Wapowski drafted a map of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania. During this entire time, he also served as a doctor to the bishop and all the canons.

Astronomy observations

Despite his many duties, he always found the time of observe the heavens, to calculate and write down his scientific masterpiece, which described a new view of the world?s structure and ensured its author an important place in science. He conducted research whenever he could find the time and when the weather, which lends to be fickle in Frombork (Frauenburg), permitted. The instruments, which the used for his research, he made himself out fir tree wood, based on an antique instrument design. The simplest instrument was the quadrant, used to measure the angle height of the Sun and the Moon above the horizon. For the more exact measurements of height and distance, Copernicus used an instrument called the astrolabe (armillary sphere). He placed all of the instruments of an even and especially leveled tile called the pavimentum in the gardens next to the canonry.

Copernicus’s Masterpiece

The astronomer presented an outline of his theory about the world?s structure in a little hand written book called the „Little Commentary” which circled among his friends and other scientists. He finished his main masterpiece ?De revolutionibus? („About Revolutions”) in 1530 but for a long time he cold not decide on having it published. A theory, which claimed that the Earth was just one of the planets circling about the sun, placed Copernicus in the opposition of other astronomers who shared traditional views of Ptolemy and against the Church itself. Nicolas was well aware of this. Finally, A newly arrived in Frombork (Frauenburg) young professor of mathematics and astronomy, Georg Joachim von Lauchen, called Rheticus, convinced Copernicus to have his work first published. First, in 1540 in Gdańsk Rheticus published „Narratio Prima” („The First Report”), which propagated the heliocentric theory. A year later when leaving Prussia he had with him the complete manuscript of „De revolutionibus”. Before the entire work was published in 1542 (in the a little backroom of John Lufft in Wittenberg) a small essay entitled ?About the sides and angles of Triangles? containing the last three chapters of the first book „About Revolutions” was published. „De revolutionibus” was published in its entirety, in 1543 in Nuremberg. Copernicus died that same year in Frombork. After his death, his masterpiece was published two more times, once in Basel in 156 and in Amsterdam in 1616. For the next twelve years, the book was banned and placed on a forbidden reading material black list. The book would not be published again until the XIX century. The first Polish translation of „De revolutionibus” (including Rheticus’s „The First Report”) was published in 1854.

The meaning of „De revolutionibus”

The first edition of „De revolutionibus” included a foreword from the publisher, stating that the results of the studies and contents of the book did not necessarily contain truthful hypothesis. Since then, however, no scientist could remain neutral about the heliocentric theory and had to speak for or against it. It would be two hundred years before Copernicus’s theory was perfected by his followers and no longer evokes any doubts or questions of any kind. Today’s view of the universe’s structure has its source in the masterpiece and work of a canon from Frombork (Frauernbug).

Remembrance of Copernicus.

Copernicus died in May of 1543 (based on historian’s theories, sometime between May 21st and the 24th) and was laid to rest under the floor of the Frombork’s Cathedral. Where exactly the final resting place is. To this day has not been established. The memory of the great scientist endures in Frombork to this day. The Chapter erected the first stone with an epitaph for Copernicus in 1580. After it was destroyed in the XVIII century, the Chapter erecter a new one (on the north side of the main nave by the first pillar of the presbytery) in a place having no connection to the actual burial place of the astronomer.

For centuries, the memory of the great scientist was cultivated quite often in the form of legends. The first of which was that he was the constructor and the actual builder of the canal, which provided water to Frombork from the Bauda River and water supply installations in this and other Prussian towns. Although it is only a legend, it exemplifies with what great respect doctor Nicolas was regarded.

The first memorial chamber dedicated to Nicolas Copernicus was established in Frombork in 1912 in a tower of one of the town’s fortifications, which he owned and lived. The museum was established in 1948. First, the exposition rooms were in the Assumption of the Most Virgin Mary canonry; then as of 1970, they have been moved and are currently in the old Bishop’s Place on the Cathedral Hill. The museum is opened to visitors all year round. The additional attraction for the tourists is the tower (once the Cathedral’s belfry), where modern art exhibits may be viewed during the summer months, and the tower?s terrace offers a breathtaking view of the area. The ground level holds the planetarium with astronomy presentations shown throughout the year. Aside from the Cathedral Hill, there is also a history of medicine museum and an astronomy observatory. The first of these is located in an old Hospital of the Holy Spririt unchanged since the XVII century. Next to it is a small English herb garden. The observatory is about 1,5 km (less than a mile) from the town on the highest hill in the area called the Żurawia Góra (Crane Hill). Each summer, as part of the „Vacation in a planetarium” program, young astronomy fans and lovers come to visit the observatory. They conduct astronomy observations and partake in the planetarium and observatory activities.