Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Galileo's fingers to be reunited!

I had a chance to see Galileo's middle finger at a Galileo exhibit in Florence this past summer. It seems that two more fingers and a tooth (his last one) were also taken as a relic from his body, when it was moved to the church of Santa Croce. But now the other two fingers have been found and will soon be reunited with his middle finger (tip Janine Solberg):

Three fingers were cut from Galileo's hand in March 1737, when his body was moved from a temporary monument to its final resting place in Florence, Italy. The last tooth remaining in his lower jaw was also taken, Galluzzi said.

Two of the fingers and the tooth ended up in a sealed glass jar that disappeared sometime after 1905.

There had been "no trace" of them for more than 100 years until the person who bought them in the auction came to the museum recently.

The owner who bought the fingers wants to remain anonymous, Galluzzi said, so the museum is not giving more details about who sold them or when.

The museum plans to display the fingers and tooth in March 2010, after it re-opens following a renovation, Galluzzi said.

The museum has had the third Galileo finger since 1927, so the digits will be reunited for the first time in centuries, he added.

Now, if you are asking why take these parts?

Removing body parts from the corpse was an echo of a practice common with saints, whose digits, tongues and organs were revered by Catholics as relics with sacred powers.
The people who cut off his fingers essentially considered him a secular saint, Galluzzi said, noting the fingers that were removed were the ones he would have used to hold a pen.

Yes...yes, you can fill in your own ironic comments here as well. But we still have to ask, who removed his fingers? Well, here is a bit from Curious Expeditions (remember that Galileo died in 1642):

As with a fine wine, it took some years for Galileo’s finger to age into something worth snapping off his skeletal hand. The finger was removed by one Anton Francesco Gori on March 12, 1737, 95 years after Galileo’s death. Passed around for a couple hundred years it finally came to rest in the Florence History of Science Museum. Today is sits among lodestones and telescopes, the only human fragment in a museum devoted entirely to scientific instruments.

And Anton Francesco Gori was a priest. Again we see it is hard to shape a clear-cut science versus religion narrative. Not to mention the fact that Galileo's remains were transferred to Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence - the largest Franciscan church in the world. He is not alone there. Apart from Franciscan nobles, remains of Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Rossini also reside in the Basilica.

Here is the full view of the Galileo sculpture inside Santa Croce in Florence (a close-up of his bust is above-right). It is very nicely done and has a prominent place in the church (Michelangelo's sculpture is across from Galileo's and is of the same size). Notice that people light up candles for him. His body is underneath this sculpture, one floor below.


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