Galileo’s Middle Finger

Galileo's middle finger

Museums all over the world hold numerous exhibits dedicated to the lives, work, and achievements of different famous people. And in the Museum of History and Science in Florence there is an exhibit of Galileo Galilei’s middle finger.

We will demonstrate interesting facts to help understand how this middle finger went from the grave to the museum.

We are all well aware of how important a scientist Galileo Galilei was in his time. But the Catholic Church and inquisition not only disputed the truth of his work, but persecuted him as well, as this was very common during the Middle Ages.

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The oppression continued even after he quietly passed away in his home in January of 1642. The church did not allow for him to be buried in his family crypt. Instead, they laid his body to rest in a small grave without tombstone.

It was almost 100 years later that the church began confessing the mistakes that were made toward Galileo and his work. The process took a long time and finally in 1981 he was completely reestablished as a genius of science and his reburial was allowed.

This happened in 1737. The body was exhumed and buried in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Rome. The entire process occurred in the presence of scientists who wished to associate themselves with his achievements, and they did so in a very strange way. They stole body parts as a keepsake, per say, which included a tooth, the spine and several fingers from his hands.

These unusual “souvenirs” were passed from one collector to another and were lost as a result. In 2009, a small portion of them resurfaced at an auction and were presented as unknown artifacts in a box. They were purchased by Italian antiquarian, Alberto Bruschi who was an obvious devotee of the arts. Among the “artifacts” that he purchased was the finger of Galileo.

Bruschi turned the scientist’s body parts over to a museum in Florence, although his ultimate goal was to reconnect them with Galileo’s buried body.

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Now, the finger is on display in the Museum of History and Science. It has been placed vertically in a crystal container, available to anyone who wishes to see it. It seems like the scientist is pointing at us – his descendants.

The middle finger from the right hand of Galileo Galilei was part of the “Galilei: Illustrations of the Universe from Ancient Times to the telescope” exhibit in Florence in 2009. The finger was placed on a marble base under a crystal cover.

In the middle of 2009 it became clear that Galileo’s grave may be opened. Scientists intended to make DNA analysis of the remains to prove that he suffered from a congenital eye disease.

Scientists believe that precisely this congenital disease prevented him from seeing Saturn’s rings while he was staring through a telescope in 1610. He mistook the rings for spots.

According to the museum in Florence, all the previously lost body parts of the astronomer are now in “safe hands”. A message from the museum claims that “based on vast historical documents, we can confirm that there is no doubt as to the authenticity of these artifacts”.

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