Sky & Telescope - January 2021 - 71

Hevelius built a great observatory in Danzig (now Gdansk,
Poland) equipped with instruments he designed and assembled. With these capabilities he became a major force in
astronomy as he observed sunspots, published maps of the
Moon, and chronicled the passages of comets. He's thus a
worthy 17th-century authority to go to for a contemporary
professional assessment of Schiller's scheme.
Hevelius observed so many new stars that he ultimately
produced an atlas, Firmamentum Sobiescianum (published in
1690), that offered many additional constellations - seven
still in use today. By his own account, he struggled with the
question of how to name them. The choices, as he saw them,
were to use Christian names and adhere to Schiller's plan, or
to come up with his own. Hevelius devoted five full pages of
the preface to his atlas defending his rejection of Schiller's
nomenclature so as to avoid the accusation that he might not
be a good Christian astronomer. We can follow his reasoning
clearly (again, via Shapiro's translation):
Indeed necessity demands that we Christians root out utterly
all those things which take their origin from the pagans and
all those which incline toward idolatry . . . for it seemed at the
beginning, before I considered the matter more deeply, that it
would also have been glorious for me if I had followed in his
[Schiller's] footsteps.

Then came the inevitable "but," followed by a list of reasons. First was a fear of obscurity:
All my work would be in vain: in the sixty years since [Schiller's
atlas], no astronomer has found any occasion, either in formal
written work or letters, disputations or dissertations, to follow
Schiller's opinion on the names of the constellations.

Second, Hevelius was concerned with the practical matter
of selling his new atlas:
Another reason is that even though the Starry Christian Heavens
is widely available, nevertheless it is not universally convenient
and marketable, and worse it is owned by very few among the
learned. No globe has ever been made using Schiller's method.

Third, he just wanted to vent his frustration about Schiller's nomenclature:

Hevelius carried the day - a complete victory!
No subsequent celestial cartographer ever attempted to
add constellations to a new sky atlas using names from the
Bible. Subsequent efforts were made to politicize the heavens by replacing the 12 signs of the zodiac with the coats
of arms of dynastic European families, but those initiatives
failed as well.
While Hevelius was a Protestant, the objections he offered
were not theological but, rather, scientific and practical.

Final Thoughts
The Starry Christian Heavens was the first atlas to be published
after the invention of the telescope, and thus contained many
additional stars not included in Bayer's Uranometria. It also
appeared at a crucial moment, during the birth of modern science. If Schiller's initiative had succeeded, the 2006
demotion of Pluto would have seemed like a minor change in
nomenclature by comparison!
It seems reasonable to consider the Schiller enterprise as
simply an act of personal piety. But beyond that, it amounted
to a strong Catholic rebuff to elements of the Reformation. Martin Luther greatly diminished the roles of saints as
intermediaries between Christians and their God. Some of
his followers ("Iconoclasts") pushed such teachings to acts of
physical violence against imagery highly valued by Catholics.
The Starry Christian Heavens extended that concept to the
stars. In an act of celestial iconoclasticism, Schiller destroyed
the zodiacal signs of the ancient sinners, while simultaneously promoting the use of saints strategically placed between
Earth and Heaven.
The constellations and the artworks depicting them
provide a remarkable, enduring example of the connections
between art, mythology, religion, and astronomy. Old and
new, they tell stories of discovery and wonder, linking themes
in science, the humanities, and belief, through visualizations that provide pathways to understanding our place in
the universe.

„ MICHAEL MENDILLO is a professor of astronomy at Boston
University where he heads a research group that studies the
upper atmospheres of Earth, the major planets, moons, comets, and exoplanets. He also has the largest privately held collection of antiquarian astronomical charts, maps, and atlases
used in celestial images exhibitions and for his studies in the
history of astronomy.

It is annoying, bothersome, and tedious.

His conclusion is as relevant today as it was for astronomers in the 17th century:
Since human life is precious and brief, we have to spend our
time rather in acquiring a more perfect understanding of the
matters not yet satisfactorily detected in Astronomy than in
overwhelming the memory with new inventions of terminology
and names (except as is necessary).

Support for this article was provided, in part, by Boston University through its Center for Space Physics. Material presented comes from a book-length manuscript in preparation
entitled Saints and Sinners in the Sky: Exploring Connections
between Astronomy, Art and Religion in Western Culture. The
author is grateful for valuable discussions and comments offered by Professor William Carroll at Boston University, and for
significant help with images by Joei Wroten of the Center for
Space Physics at Boston University.
sk yandtelescope.org * JANUARY 2 021

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