A Brill Calendar: October 24
Hevelius and the Creation of the World
Few universities and centres of learning matched Leyden University during its first century of existence
This is especially the case if pure numbers – of scholars, professors and faculty – are not taken into account. The Institution, born in 1575, prospered from the beginning because it ‘catered for many markets’. Like the Universities of Geneva and Heidelberg, it didn’t have to carry the burden of traditions entrenched in Roman Catholic power structures and monastic or Papal recognition.
The authority needed to begin teaching was formally granted by Leyden’s Founding Fathers in the name of the King of Spain Philip II; the absentee Landlord ruling the Low Countries. It is seldom that an unprecedented addition to a country’s social and cultural resources started under such auspices.
Leyden attracted young men from all over Europe where followers of both Luther and Calvin had come to the fore in secular and religious matters; it was an institution that embodied new cultures of learning and intellectual investigation. One of these young men was Hevelius (Gdansk, 1611 – Gdansk, 1687), in his hometown known as Johann Hewel, or Howelcke, who ended his life as not only the proud owner of a beer brewing business, but also of an astronomical observatory of his own design and making, lenses included, built on top of his domicile.
Here he produced - lovingly assisted by Mrs. Hevelius during many, many nights - the first detailed map of the face of the moon that can be seen from our planet, as well as a catalogue of some 1500 stars; the most detailed one of his day & age. And as if this wouldn’t be enough for posterity, Hevelius calculated that God Almighty created the world October 24, 3963 years before Christ. This precision echoes an early triumph associated with Leyden: Professor Scaliger’s establishment of a new, rational chronology for the studying history.
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