Saturday, June 12, 2010

Galileo's Fingers On Display

Galileo Galilei

In a story from the strange file, three of Galileo's fingers are currently on display at an Italian science museum. While everyone interested in astronomy knows all about Galileo himself, the story behind his fingers is little-known and quite interesting.

Galileo died in 1642 while under house arrest for challenging the geocentric view of the solar system, which was, according to the church, official dogma. Although he recanted, Galileo was not allowed a tomb befitting the prestigious scientist he was. However, in 1737, nearly a century after his death, this attitude had softened and it was decided to give Galileo a more fitting final resting place.

Galileo was dug up and while his body was in storage, three of the digits from his right hand, a tooth, and one of his vertebrae were removed by admirers (a strange way to show appreciation by today's standards!). The vertebrae ended up in the University of Padua, where Galileo was a professor. The fingers on the other hand, went on quite an odyssey.

The mummified fingers, along with the tooth, were kept in a sealed container that was kept in one family and passed from one generation to the next through the centuries (quite an inheritance!). Unfortunately, by the turn of the 20th century, no one seems to have remembered where the body parts went. Oops! Needless to say, they were all thought to have been lost.

The good news was that a few years ago, everything turned up[ at, of all places, an auction. This just goes to show that one never knows what will turn up when buying antiques! The relics, once recognized for what they were, then went straight to the Museum of the History of Science, which reopened as the Galileo Museum this year after renovation.

So now, in addition to instruments built and used by Galileo, visitors can also come face to finger with the great man himself!

Don't believe it? Here's a link with a photo!

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