Brno celebrates bicentenary of Mendel’s birth in grand style
The Moravian metropolis of Brno is paying tribute to its most famous citizen – the Augustinian monk, mathematician and biologist, widely known as “the father of genetics” – Johann Gregor Mendel, born 200 years ago. The city is celebrating the anniversary with numerous events: a mass at the Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the reconstruction of Mendel’s greenhouse at St. Thomas’ Abbey where he conducted his genetic research on pea plants and an international Mendel Genetics Conference at the university that bears his name.
Gregor Johann Mendel was born in a German-speaking family in the Silesian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in what is today the Czech Republic, on July 20, 1822. After becoming a monk, Mendel spent most of his life in the Augustinian abbey of St Thomas in Brno. It was there that he conducted his crossbreeding experiments with pea plants, through which he discovered the role of dominant and recessive genes. This discovery later formed the core of genetics.
The celebrations paying tribute to the city’s most famous citizen are grand – his face, name and the symbolic green pea are everywhere – on the main square that bears his name and has been reconstructed in time for the anniversary using corner stones blessed by Pope Francis, on the city’s trams and a sculpture commissioned to celebrate his legacy. The monument depicting sprouting peas stands not far from the Augustinian abbey where Mendel conducted his experiments.
In Mendel’s honour, Brno’s astronomical clock is issuing token glass balls in his memory – decorated with a red circle and the letter “M” in green. Special banknotes with Mendel’s portrait have been issued to mark the occasion – a small edition of two-hundred-crown banknotes that are selling for two and a half thousand crowns apiece.
Throughout the week, concerts are taking place in spaces associated with Mendel and the Augustinians. On Friday, the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra will give a concert at the Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, which will be streamed live to audiences the world over.
A significant part of the celebrations focus on science and Mendel’s legacy. The Mendel Museum has an exhibition on genetics and the Mendel Genetics Conference at the university that bears his name, has attracted 400 prominent researchers from around the world, among them several Nobel Prize winners (Ada E. Yonath from Israel, Thomas Cech from the University of Colorado and geneticist and cell biologist Paul Nurse from London).
On Wednesday – Mendel’s birthday – the city has prepared a fireworks display in his honour and people will also be able to drink a toast in his memory with a Mendel beer, brewed according to an old Augustinian recipe, by the Moravia brewery in cooperation with Mendel University. Last, but not least, Mendel’s legacy is being celebrated with a unique book printed on handmade paper and bound in leather which contains copies of authentic documents and manuscripts – Mendel's birth certificate, handwritten notes for his sermons and texts documenting the experiments that made him famous.