Copernicus in Olsztyn castle: the experimental table

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Olsztyn castle is a great building which you must visit if you want to know more things about Nicolas Copernicus’ life. He lived here between 1516 and 1520 and it’s possible to imagine his steps in the courtyard:

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

The museum of the castle welcomes the visitors with a very explict plaque:

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

But the main attraction of the castle is the expermiental table drawn by the astronomer which is the only surviving original astronomical device used by him:

Nicolaus Copernicus was the most prominent resident of Olsztyn castle. He held there the position of the administrator of th Warmia cathedral chapter common property. He resided at Olsztyn castle twice. First, when he served the three year term of the administrator; from 8 November 1516 until 9 November 1519. The second stay of Copernicus in Olsztyn was related to the last war with the Teutonic Order. After plundering Frombork by Teutonic knights, Copernicus found refuge in Olsztyn castle and next administered the property of the chapter from 23 January 1520 until the end of October 1521. Responsibilities of the administrator included managing the property of the cathedral chapter in the districts of Olsztyn and Melzack. In those districts the administrator managed the land, held the judiciary powers and was responsible for fiscal issues […]. Copernicus devoted the time in Olsztyn to the administrative duties, taking the inventory of the archives of the chapter as well as the first edition of the treatise on the coin that resulted in formulating the law that “the worse coins get the better ones out of circulation”. Also hre, within the walls of Olsztyn castle, he wrote the text of the first chapter of the work of his lifetime “De Revolutionibus” -the work taht “stopped the Sun and moved the Earth from its foundations”. The same walls hide the most valuable monument of Copernicus -the experimental table- the only original instrument that swerved Copernicus for studies. The table 705 x 140 cm in size was drawn on the plastered wall of the north wing gallery just above the entrance to the room in which the administrator lived. Large fragments of that exceptional monument have been preserved until the present day.

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

The story hasn’t finished yet!

The astronomical table was made by Copernicus probably at the turn of 1516 and 1517. It alowed graphic presentation of the spring equinox date, which in turn allowed determination of the dates of movable church holidays and first of all, conducting work on calendar reform. The reform was necessary as the difference between the length of the calendar year introduced by the Council of Nicaea in 325 and the astronomical year caused that celestial phenomena moved back in time in relation to the calendar dates. At the beginning of the 16th c. that difference was already 10 days and for that reason Pope Leon X ordered the calendar reform that was dealt by the Fifth General Council of the Lateran. Copernicus drafted seventeen lines corresponding to the movement of sun rays at five-day intervals. Sixteen of them reflect the superficial movement of the Sun across fragments of hyperboles while one is a traight line. That straight line reflects the moment of equinox. It was additionally highlighted by colouring it blue and providing the inscription of which fragments of letters T, I and C have been preserved. The computations presented in the table cover the days between 25 January and 24 April. Application of sunlight projection reflected from an object positioned on the window still of the third gallery window for the observations make the table not only a priceless monument of Copernicus but also the oldest example of gnomonic reflection application. The visible missing fragments of plaster represent consequences of the castle reconstruction of 1676. At that time the gallery, and consequently the table, were divided by partition walls that have been removed in mid-19th c. […]

We saw the replicas of Copernicus’ instruments in Warsaw but this original one is very important for the Science lovers!

Location: Olsztyn castle (map)

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