Sky & Telescope - January 2021 - 66

Constellation History

nations, which is still in use today. For example, the brightest
star in Orion is Alpha (α) Orionis (Betelgeuse), shown in the
hunter's left shoulder in the illustration on page 65. Interestingly, this particular copy of Uranometria, from 1639, wasn't
stored in a library, but actually used by a keen observer of the
great naked-eye comet of 1652. The Christmas comet's path is
marked with handwritten notes, as the object passed by Rigel
upwards toward the lion's skin.
Unfortunately for Bayer, his milestone atlas appeared just
seven years before Galileo's Sidereus nuncius (1610), which
described the wonders revealed by the newly invented telescope. Almost overnight, Uranometria became obsolete.

Schiller's Great Enterprise
At the same time that the telescope drove a revolution in
astronomy, religion experienced its own upheavals. To oppose
astrological belief and to counter Protestant iconoclastic
furor during the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), an effort was
undertaken to rebrand the celestial landscape by replacing
the constellations of mythology (so beautifully rendered by
Bayer) with saints and biblical symbols. The force behind this
daring initiative was Julius Schiller (c. 1580-1627), Bayer's
friend, professional colleague, and fellow astronomy enthusiast.
Schiller's remarkable and audacious plan was to rename
and reimage all 60 astronomical constellations. Ptolemy's
Northern Hemisphere figures would be replaced by saints
from the New Testament, while the constellations of the
southern sky would appear as icons from the Old Testament.
For the pivotal groupings of the zodiac, the 12 Apostles of
Christ would supplant the 12 pagan signs and myths. The
effort involved was enormous, and Coelum Stellatum Christianum (The Starry Christian Heavens) was published in 1627.
The image on page 64 shows Saint Joseph, Schiller's biblical replacement for the group of stars associated with Orion.
In Bayer's Uranometria, Orion's famous three belt stars align
from lower left to upper right, as they appear in the night
sky. Schiller, however, portrays those same stars from upper
left to lower right, as if seen from outside the celestial sphere
(God's-eye view). This perspective in itself was not revolutionary, since celestial globes had long used that external
format. Schiller's bold move was to break the association
of Orion's stars with a reprehensible, womanizing pagan in
favor of the ultimate role model of husband and father. And
the figure's props were changed as well. The club and trophy lion's skin are gone, replaced with the tools of a humble
carpenter.
Schiller didn't always employ a scheme based on morality
(as with the Orion/Saint Joseph pair) - geometrical patterns
offered visually appealing options as well. In the images on
the facing page, we see Cygnus, the Swan, from Uranometria
transformed into Saint Helen, holding the cross upon which
Jesus died. So obvious is the stellar pattern that Cygnus today
is often referred to as the Northern Cross. Schiller cleansed
Zeus's various sexual exploits that are embedded in the Cyg66

JANUARY 2 021 * SK Y & TELESCOPE

nus mythologies by employing the Roman Emperor Constantine's saintly mother.

Fixing the Zodiac
Schiller wasn't the first to reimagine the heavens. Previously
the focus had always been on the 12 constellations of the
zodiac - the signposts along the celestial superhighway (the
ecliptic) where the Sun and planets are found. The zodiacal
constellations were also the foundation stones of astrology, a
belief system opposed by all manner of religious leaders, from
Saint Augustine (353-430) to Martin Luther (1483-1546).
Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) proposed to change the names
of the 12 zodiacal signs to those of the 12 moral virtues.
While that scheme died with him at the stake, famed Jesuit
author and orator Jeremias Drexel (1581-1638) took up the
cause. However, it was Schiller (whom Drexel mentored) who
pushed the concept to visual reality.
The 12 constellations of the ancient zodiac offered a readymade target for replacement by the numerically equivalent
Apostles. Why would that be so? The number 12 was an
important number for many groups documented in the Bible
(for example, the Twelve Tribes of Israel), and today it is
omnipresent in everyday life (12 inches to a foot, 12 items in
a dozen, and, most notably, 12 months in a year).
With his plan in place, Schiller could now repopulate the
entire celestial sphere with his biblical choices. Using the
first-ever translation of Schiller's Latin text, by Aaron Shapiro
(Boston University), we can perceive Schiller's methods when
it came to the 12 signs of the zodiac. "And so Saint Peter the
Apostle, Shepherd of Christ's flock, has taken for himself the
constellation of Aries, first of the Zodiac, and according to
Uranometria, the first of all constellations."
Then, case by case, the 11 remaining signs became saintby-saint constellations. Schiller started by grouping brothers
together (Peter and Andrew for Aries and Taurus; James the
Greater and John the Evangelist for Gemini and Cancer), and
ended with the twelfth sign (Pisces) occupied by Saint Matthias, himself the replacement of the perfidious Judas Iscariot.
Schiller also assigned a symbol to each apostle's image. Saint
Peter, for example, holds the keys to Heaven. For the remaining 11, Schiller turned to the apostle's martyrdom, often
described in gory detail.
For constellations beyond the zodiac, Schiller sometimes
offered moral connections (as with Orion and Saint Joseph),
and occasionally geometrically convenient ones (Cygnus and
Saint Helen). Each constellation pair in Coelum Stellatum
included a thoughtful explanation. A spectacular visual summary of the overall scheme for the Northern Hemisphere is
shown on pages 68 and 69, using plates from the magnificent
atlas, Harmonia Macrocosmica, by Dutch-German cartographer, Andreas Cellarius (1661).

Going South
Having converted each of Bayer's 48 classical Northern Hemisphere constellations to his Christianized versions, Schiller



Sky & Telescope - January 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Sky & Telescope - January 2021

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Sky & Telescope - January 2021 - 1
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