Nicolas Steno


Nicolas Steno
Vicar Apostolic of Nordic Missions
Portrait of Steno as bishop
Portrait of Steno as bishop
Appointed21 August 1677
by Pope Innocent XI
Term ended5 December 1686
PredecessorValerio Maccioni
SuccessorFriedrich von Tietzen[notes 1]
Other postsTitular Bishop of Titiopolis
Ordination13 April 1675[2]
Consecration19 September 1677
by Saint Gregorio Barbarigo[3][4]
Personal details
Birth nameNiels Steensen
Born(1638-01-01)1 January 1638
[NS: 11 January 1638]
Copenhagen, Denmark-Norway
Died25 November 1686(1686-11-25) (aged 48)
[NS: 5 December 1686]
Schwerin, Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin
BuriedBasilica of San Lorenzo, Italy
DenominationRoman Catholic
  • father: Steen Pedersen[5]
  • mother: Anne Nielsdatter[6]
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Coat of armsCoat of arms of Bishop Nicolas Steno. The cross symbolizes faith and the heart, the natural sciences.
Feast day5 December
Venerated inRoman Catholic Church
Beatified23 October 1988
Rome, Vatican City
by Pope John Paul II

Nicolas Steno (Danish: Niels Steensen; Latinized to Nicolaus Steno or Nicolaus Stenonius[notes 2]; 1 January 1638 – 25 November 1686[9][10] [NS: 11 January 1638 – 5 December 1686][9]) was a Danish scientist, a pioneer in both anatomy and geology who became a Catholic bishop in his later years. Steno was trained in the classical texts on science; however, by 1659 he seriously questioned accepted knowledge of the natural world.[11] Importantly he questioned explanations for tear production, the idea that fossils grew in the ground and explanations of rock formation. His investigations and his subsequent conclusions on fossils and rock formation have led scholars to consider him one of the founders of modern stratigraphy and modern geology.[12][13] The importance of Steno's foundational contributions to geology may be gauged from the fact that half of the twenty papers in a recent miscellany volume on The Revolution in Geology from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment focus on Steno, the "preeminent Baroque polymath and founder of modern geologic thought".[14]

Born to a Lutheran family, Steno converted to Catholicism in 1667. After his conversion, his interest for natural sciences rapidly waned giving way to his interest in theology.[15] At the beginning of 1675, he decided to become a priest. Four months after, he was ordained in the Catholic clergy in Easter 1675. As a clergyman, he was later appointed Vicar Apostolic of Nordic Missions and Titular Bishop of Titopolis by Pope Innocent XI. Steno played an active role in the Counter-Reformation in Northern Germany. The canonization process for him was begun in 1938. Pope John Paul II beatified Steno in 1988.[16]

Early life and career

Portrait of Nicolas Steno (1666–1677). Unsigned but attributed to court painter Justus Sustermans. (Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy)[17]

Nicolas Steno was born in Copenhagen on New Year's Day 1638 (Julian calendar), the son of a Lutheran goldsmith who worked regularly for King Christian IV of Denmark. He became ill at age three, suffering from an unknown disease, and grew up in isolation during his childhood. In 1644 his father died, after which his mother married another goldsmith. In 1654–1655, 240 pupils of his school died due to the plague. Across the street lived Peder Schumacher (who would offer Steno a post as professor in Copenhagen in 1671). At the age of 19, Steno entered the University of Copenhagen to pursue medical studies.[18] After completing his university education, Steno set out to travel through Europe; in fact, he would be on the move for the rest of his life. In the Netherlands, France, Italy and Germany he came into contact with prominent physicians and scientists. These influences led him to use his own powers of observation to make important scientific discoveries.

At the urging of Thomas Bartholin, Steno first travelled to Rostock, then to Amsterdam, where he studied anatomy under and lodged with Gerard Blasius, focusing on the lymphatic system. Within a few months Steno moved to Leiden, where he met the students Jan Swammerdam, Frederik Ruysch, Reinier de Graaf, Franciscus de le Boe Sylvius, a famous professor, and Baruch Spinoza.[19] At the time Descartes was publishing on the working of the brain, and Steno doubted Descartes's explanation of the origin of tears[20] as produced by the brain. Invited to Paris by Henri Louis Habert de Montmor and Pierre Bourdelot, he there met Ole Borch and Melchisédech Thévenot who were interested in new research and in demonstrations of his skills. In 1665 Steno travelled to Saumur, Bordeaux and Montpellier, where he met Martin Lister and William Croone, who introduced Steno's work to the Royal Society.

After travelling through France, he settled in Italy in 1666 – at first as professor of anatomy at the University of Padua and then in Florence as in-house physician of Grand Duke of Tuscany Ferdinando II de' Medici, who supported arts and science and whom Steno had met in Pisa.[21] Steno was invited to live in the Palazzo Vecchio; in return he had to gather a cabinet of curiosities. Steno went to Rome and met Pope Alexander VII and Marcello Malpighi, whom he admired. On his way back he watched a Corpus Christi procession in Livorno and wondered if he had the right belief.[22] In Florence Steno focused on the muscular system and the nature of muscle contraction. He became a member of Accademia del Cimento and had long discussions with Francesco Redi. Like Vincenzo Viviani, Steno proposed a geometrical model of muscles to show that a contracting muscle changes its shape but not its volume.[23][24]

Other Languages
беларуская: Нільс Стэнсен
български: Нилс Стенсен
català: Niels Stensen
čeština: Niels Stensen
Ελληνικά: Νικόλαος Στένο
español: Nicolás Steno
Esperanto: Nikolao Stenono
français: Nicolas Sténon
հայերեն: Նիլս Ստենսեն
hrvatski: Nicolaus Steno
Bahasa Indonesia: Nicolas Steno
latviešu: Nikolajs Stenons
македонски: Николас Стено
Nederlands: Nicolaus Steno
norsk nynorsk: Niels Stensen
português: Nicolaus Steno
română: Niels Stensen
Runa Simi: Nicolaus Steno
Simple English: Nicolaus Steno
српски / srpski: Николас Стено
Türkçe: Nicolas Steno
українська: Ніколас Стено
Yorùbá: Nicolas Steno