Monday 14 April 2014

From the Priesthood to the Heavens: Maximilian Hell

Maximilian Hell (né Rudolf Maximilian Höll; Selmecbánya, Kingdom of Hungary, 15th May 1720 - Vienna, Austria, 14th April 1792)

Maximilian Hell (

Today we greet a wonderfully-monikered man of science who is immortalised today in the name of a crater on the moon. From his early beginnings as a Jesuit priest to travels in pursuit of the transit of Venus, Maximilian Hell made his mark on the world on the scientific landscape of 18th century Europe.

Born Rudolf Maximilian Höll to mathematician Matthäus Kornelius Höll and Julianna Staindl, the future astronomer was the third of the couple's staggeringly high count of 22 children. Language and cultural identity was always an important factor in Hell's life and he was raised as a German speaker but considered himself as Hungarian. Although he undertook studies in science, astronomy and mathematics, Hell was eventually ordained as a Jesuit priest in 1751. Followed his ordination he devoted himself for a time to researching and writing on the subject of language in the region of his birth, supplementing his income by working as a tutor.

Though it appeared that Hell was destined for a life of faith, he could not set aside his passion for astronomy and in 1756 was placed in charge of the Vienna Observatory and used the facility to research his Ephemerides for the Meridian of Vienna. At the personal invitation of the Danish court, Hell travelled across Scandinavia to observe the transit of Venus that was so important in the Georgian age and published widely on the subject of astronomy, though some of his works were erroneously considered to have falsified evidence and findings. Regardless of what some of his contemporaries may have thought, Hell enjoyed great success and was eventually elected as a foreign member of both the Royal Swedish and Royal Danish Academies of Science.

Hell died at the age of 71 after contracting pneumonia; he left behind a wide body of astronomical works.


Unknown said...

Just like my previous comment regarding the closeness of the arts and science, it's also really interesting to see how indistinguishable religion and science are in the 18th Century. What a dedicated pursuit of the real heavenly bodies!

Catherine Curzon said...

The connections of religion and science surprised me when I first began to learn about the era, I had not expected such close ties.