Nicolas Steno

Nicolaus Steno ( nis ) ( Romanization of Niels Stensen; * 1 Januarjul / January 11 1638greg in Copenhagen, Kingdom of Denmark, .. .. † 25 Novemberjul / December 5 1686greg in Schwerin, Mecklenburg Duchy ) was a Danish physician, anatomist and naturalist, later Catholic priest and bishop. He is venerated in the Roman Catholic Church as Seliger. Wilhelm von Humboldt called him the "father of geology ".

Steno spoke eight languages ​​fluently. From friends and acquaintances of his parents he learned the German language. He learned Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Arabic language at school. Later he acquired the Dutch, French, Italian and English.


Nicolaus Steno was born in Copenhagen in 1638, the son of a goldsmith and baptized Lutheran at St. Nicholas Church, attended from 1648 to 1656 in his hometown of the Latin school at the Church of Our Lady, who was then best school in the country. This was followed in 1656 at the age of 18 years, a three-year study medicine at the University of Copenhagen. Studies and lecture tours have taken him 1660-1665, including by Rostock, Amsterdam ( meeting with Baruch Spinoza and his philosophy), Leiden, Paris, Montpellier and Pisa. There he came up with the leading physicians of his time in contact. Through its own research, he discovered already in 1660 the excretory duct of the parotid gland in the section of a sheep's head. His lectures and anatomical demonstrations made ​​him famous throughout Europe. In 1661 he wrote and defended his dissertation on the he had discovered the excretory duct of the parotid gland. After he learned of the death of his stepfather in 1663, he returned to Copenhagen, where he the book " Observations on muscles and glands " published in Latin script, by proving that the heart is a muscle. Soon afterwards his mother died, he left Copenhagen and traveled to Paris. He was awarded during this time from the University of Leiden in the absence of the title of Doctor of Medicine.

In 1666 Steno traveled over Pisa and Rome to Florence. Ferdinand II de Medici made ​​him his personal physician and generously supported his research. During this time, his interest expanded to geological and paleontological subjects.

At the same time had (1666 Corpus Christi procession in Livorno) triggered an intense study of theological issues impressions in the Netherlands ( fragmentation of Reformed Churches ) and Italy. In November 1667 Steno converted to the Catholic Church. Since then he has regularly attended church liturgy and to deepen his personal prayer life. From 1668 Steno took a three-year geological research trip through southern Europe and eventually returned to Florence. There he wrote his first theological writings. In 1672 he followed a call of the Danish king, and went as a royal anatomist and university teachers back to Copenhagen. However, the denominational difference was despite the good will of all concerned not to bridge, and at the same time grew in shorthand the desire to devote themselves to the ecclesiastical ministry. In 1674, he returned as tutor to the crown prince to Florence. The following year, he asked for the priesthood. Easter 1675 in Florence celebrated Stensen his first hl. Fair and worked since then at the Medici court as a chaplain and confessor. He did this, according to eyewitnesses, here as in all other places of activity, with kindness and humility, but also with clear requirements for the conduct of life.

In Hanover since 1665 resided Duke Johann Friedrich, who was also a convert to Catholicism in Italy. This bat after the death of Pope Innocent XI Valerio Maccioni. 1677 to the posting Stenos to Hanover. On September 19, 1677 Niels Stensen received in Rome by Cardinal Gregorio Barbarigo episcopal ordination as Titular Bishop of Titiopolis and was as Apostolic Vicar for the scattered remnants of Catholic communities in Northern Germany and Scandinavia (Apostolic Vicariate of the North ), headquartered in Hanover sent. Here he met, inter alia, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who admired him as a scientist, his religious attitude, however, perceived as rigid. When Duke Johann Friedrich died in December 1679 and his brother, thus again became a Lutheran, dominion in Hannover, lost the northern Vicariate in the city to support. The Prince-Bishopric of Paderborn initiated at this time Ferdinand von Furstenberg, who was also Prince-Bishop of Münster. He asked Rome for posting Stensens to Münster as auxiliary bishop and head of pastoral care.

1680-1683 tried Stensen in Munster to arrange the spiritual life of clergy and laity and to overcome indiscipline and sale of offices. The Office of the Dean of St. Ludgeri pin, the income of which should secure his livelihood, he was already back after a year because he did not do justice to him. Personally Stensen was now even ascetic. What he demanded of sacred ministers, he showed an example by their own conduct. So he came into conflict with the lifestyle of often derived from the noble higher clergy and became a living reproach.

When, after the death of Ferdinand von Furstenberg instead of a pastor - bishop of Münster Maximilian Henry of Bavaria his fifth bishop's seat occupied after he had secured to the chapter that choice 60,000 rix-dollars bribe Stensen publicly protested and left Munster on 1 September in 1683. He went to Hamburg, where he was taken in the house of the Dutch anatomist Theodor Kerckring to serve the local Catholic community. There, too, he met strong tensions and violent resistance against the foreign Mahner and conciliator.

In 1685, finally, he was called to Schwerin. As a simple priest without episcopal insignia he took care of the little community. Again, there were disappointments.

After a five-week, associated with severe colic gall disease Niels Stensen 48 -year-old died in Schwerin. As his last word has been handed the prayer: Jesus, sis mihi Jesus - "Jesus, my savior is". His Hamburger friend Kerckring was commissioned by the Tuscan Grand Duke embalm his body and transfer by boat to Leghorn. He was buried in the grave chapel of the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence.

Three hundred years later, on October 23, 1988, Nicolaus Steno was beatified on decisive instigation of Bishop Henry Theissing, the Apostolic Administrator of Schwerin, by Pope John Paul II. His ecclesiastical feast day is November 25.

Stensens continues to this day worship is rooted in his scientific impartiality and observation of field as well as in the great patience and perseverance with which he fulfilled his religious mission inside and outside the church and difficulties in increasing isolation.


Steno was known for his independent study of nature and the move away from relying on outdated authorities. The contemporary scientific works published in Latin always wore his Latinized name Nicolaus Stenonis (Gen. Nicolai ). The misconception that also the surname Stenonis was considered genitive of Steno in later times, in 1916, John G. Winter explained in an introduction to the English edition of Steno's principal work, " De solido intra solidum naturaliter contento dissertationis prodromus " ( 1669). Instead, the genitive occurs already by the Romanization of the Danish name Stensen on, because this means something like " son of Sten " in Latin filius Stenonis or shortened Stenonis. In the surviving manuscripts Stensen signed with Nicolaus Stenonis. The shortening of the name to " short-hand" is only due to later editions of her work in different languages ​​, but now in general use.


Steno studied and first described the lacrimal and salivary glands of the human body and different glands of lymph nodes. He described the excretory duct system of the parotid gland, the parotid duct. This is among clinicians as " Stenson duct " means ( " Stensen - gear", " Stenon -course ").


In the investigation of quartz Steno discovered the law of constant angles, ie the fact that the surfaces of the crystals are at the same angle to each other, regardless of their size or shape. He then suggested that this is a property of all mineral crystals, and thus laid the foundation for modern crystallography.

Geology and Paleontology

In Steno insight about the biological origin of fossils as the remains of living organisms goes back, which had been until then a natural rock excesses ( lusus naturae ) is considered. With its 1667 published magazine " Canis carchariae dissectum caput " he showed that in reality there is fossil shark teeth at the " tongue stones " so-called.

Steno made ​​with the " Stratigraphic Basic Law " (also "Storage Act"), a central contribution to the development of geology. In his most important work, De solido intra solidum naturaliter contento dissertationis prodromus ( the forerunner of a treatise on festival, which is included in nature in -grade ), he developed the first one standing on a scientific basis theory on the origin of sedimentary rocks. After Steno, the rocks formed as a horizontally mounted layers of deposited material in the water. The layers are deposited one above the other from ( superposition principle ). Steno recognized the fact that the age of a sediment layer decreases towards the top, as always deposited layers on older younger. The existence of sedimentary rocks with up to vertically extending stratification and large distortions explained Steno correctly deformations, which had to have occurred after the formation of the rock.

Ecclesiastical aftermath

In the northern German Catholic diaspora Niels Stensen has been rediscovered after a long oblivion in the 20th century. In Worphausen at Bremen the " Niels Stensen - Monastery " was built in the 1960s. It was never used as such, but served for decades as the " Niels Stensen - house " as a Catholic educational institution. When the diocese of Hildesheim 2007, the educational institution gave up, took the Foundation " life and work" most of the plant. Other educational and recreational facilities bear his name. The Catholic Youth Hamburg operates the Niels Stensen - Haus in Wentorf. The first church, which was named after Stensen, Niels Stensen is the parish in Greve mills (Mecklenburg). A street named after Niels Stensen - In the 1980s, has been in Schwerin - then East German district of the capital.

In the diocese of Münster since 1988, a stele at the Old St. Clement's Church in Münster- Hiltrup to Steno. Since 2006, ie, a parish in the diocese after him. It was formed from the merger of the parishes of Lengerich, Ladbergen, Lengerich and Tecklenburg and is equipped with 8700 Christians and 300 square kilometers expansion, the largest community in the Diocese of Münster. In addition, in the West Minster, the Niels Stensen - street was named in the vicinity of the University Hospital by Steno.

Since 2008, ie a commonly located in the region of Osnabrück composite church hospitals and associated facilities Niels Stensen - Kliniken. He is also patron of the Niels Stensen Care Centre in Ankum.


  • Observationes anatomicae ( 1662)
  • De musculis et glandis ( 1664)
  • Discours sur l' anatomie du cerveau ( 1665)
  • Canis carchariae dissectum caput ( 1667)
  • Elementorum Myologiae Specimen seu musculi descriptio geometrica. Cui accedunt canis carchariae dissectum caput, et dissectus piscis ex canum genere ( 1667)
  • De solido intra solidum naturaliter contento dissertationis prodromus ( 1669)
  • Prodromus ( 1671)