Museum: Galileo's fingers, tooth are found

November 21, 2009
In this image provided by Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza di Firenze shows a finger attributed to Galileo Galilei. A Florence museum says, Friday, Nov. 20, 2009, two fingers and a tooth believed to belong to Galileo Galilei have been found and will go on display next spring. Three fingers and a tooth were taken from the astronomer's body in 1737 and placed in a container. Paolo Galluzzi, director of the Museum of the History of Science, said a private collector had bought a container at auction containing two fingers and a tooth. The collector contacted Florence cultural officials and the parts and the container were found to match descriptions of the Galileo relics in historical documents. Galileo, who died in 1642, was branded a heretic by the Vatican for saying the Earth revolved around the Sun. In the early 1990s, Pope John Paul II rehabilitated him. (AP Photo/Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza di Firenze/ho)

(AP) -- Two fingers and a tooth removed from Galileo Galilei's corpse in a Florentine basilica in the 18th century and given up for lost have been found again and will soon be put on display, an Italian museum director said Friday.

Three fingers, a vertebra and a tooth were removed from the astronomer's body by admirers in 1737, 95 years after his death, as his corpse was being moved from a storage place to a monumental tomb - opposite that of Michelangelo, in Santa Croce Basilica in Florence.

One of the fingers was recovered soon afterward and is now part of the collection of the Museum of the History of Science, in Florence. The vertebra has been kept at the University of Padua, where Galileo taught for years.

But the tooth and two fingers from the scientist's right hand - the thumb and middle finger - were kept by one of the admirers, an Italian marquis, and later enclosed in a container that was passed on from generation to generation in the same family, Paolo Galluzzi, the museum's director, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

"But with time, the generations lost knowledge of what was actually inside the container," and the family sold it, Galluzzi said. By 1905, all traces of the relics had disappeared, "leading scholars to hypothesize that these singular specimens had been definitely lost," the museum said in a statement.

The container recently turned up at auction and was purchased by a private collector, intrigued by the contents but not sure they were Galileo's relics.

The buyer eventually contacted Galluzzi and other Florence culture officials, who used detailed historical documents, as well as documentation from the family that had owned it for so long, to conclude that the fingers and tooth were Galileo's, the museum director said.

The relics were inside an 18th-century blown-glass vase, which in turn was inside a wooden case topped with a wooden bust of Galileo, the museum said.

Galileo, who died in 1642, was condemned by the Vatican for saying the Earth revolved around the Sun. Church teaching at the time held that the Earth was the center of the universe. In the early 1990s, Pope John Paul II rehabilitated him, saying the church had erred.

The will put the fingers and on display next spring.

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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1 / 5 (1) Nov 21, 2009
Some admirers of science exhibit quite unscientific behavior.
5 / 5 (1) Nov 21, 2009
Boy there's something I wanna see. Science has relics too. Maybe sell them to the church and make some money for research.
not rated yet Nov 21, 2009
It's so horrible to imagine they butchered the corpse of one of history's greatest minds. I know everyone wants a souvenir, but how about a piece of clothing!
not rated yet Nov 21, 2009
not rated yet Nov 21, 2009
I never cease to be amazed at the lengths people go to in order to make museum displays. Seriously I am glad they don't know how to make voodoo zombies. Can we just leave people's remains in the ground? What's next? Aristotle's shrunken head?
not rated yet Nov 22, 2009
As weird as this seems to most people, I believe that bone collecting was a common practice in Italy. I recall seeing coffins/bones of saints in the cathedral in central Milano.
5 / 5 (1) Nov 22, 2009
My guess is that Galileo might find it fitting to give his middle finger to the Vatican.

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