Joachim Vadianus

Joachim Vadianus (1484-1551), born Joachim von Watt, was a Swiss doctor, humanist, and mapmaker. He was city physician and mayor of his hometown of St. Gallen in Switzerland, and oversaw the town’s conversion to Protestantism during the early Reformation. He came from a family of traders, but decided early on to pursue a more ethereal ambition by studying arts at the University of Vienna. When he graduated in 1509, he had become deeply inspired by the principles of humanism and began writing and debating profusely. Within a few years he was appointed professor at his alma mater, becoming Dean of the University in 1516 and winning his doctorate a year later.

Like any true Renaissance man, Vadianus was a bit of a polymath. He had won renown as an orator and poet early in life, but soon dedicated himself to a number of new fields, including medicine and natural philosophy (then equivalent to the sciences). Among his many passions was geography. After achieving his doctorate, he returned to St. Gallen to work as the town’s physician. When the Reformation swept across Europe, he strongly supported the new religious interpretations. He went into local politics and became mayor in 1526; a role in which he facilitated the town’s permanent conversion to Protestantism.

In addition to his geographical works, Vadianus published treatises on poetry, theology, and ecclesiastical history. Even so, the atlas Epitome trium terrae partium Asiae, Africae et Europae compendiariam locorum descriptionem continens was undoubtedly his most renowned and circulated work. On Vadianus’ death in 1551, his entire library was donated to the city, forming the foundation for the still active Cantonal Library of St. Gallen, known as the Vadiana.

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