June 9, 2010

Museum Displays Fingers From Galileo

Two of Galileo's fingers have gone on display in a Florence museum after admirers removed them from his corpse in the 18th century.

The Museum of the History of Science had shut down for two years for renovations.  It reopened on Tuesday and renamed itself the Galileo Museum.

The museum director announced last year that the thumb and middle finger from Galileo's right hand had turned up at an auction and were recognized as being the fingers of the scientist, who died in 1642.  The fingers are now displayed in slender, glass cases.  His tooth is also on display.  A third finger was already in the museum.

Admirers of Galileo removed the three fingers in 1737, plus the tooth and a vertebra.  His body was being moved from a storage place to a monumental tomb, opposite that of Michelangelo, when they took the fingers.

The vertebra is kept at the University of Padua, where Galileo taught for many years.

The tooth, thumb and middle finger were held in a container passed from generation to generation in the same family.  However, all traces of the relics disappeared in the early 20th century.  According to museum officials, the container turned up at auction, and detailed historical documents and the family's own records helped experts identify them.

Visitors can view what the museum calls the only surviving instruments designed and built by Galileo, including two telescopes and a lens he used to discover Jupiter's moons.

The Vatican condemned Galileo for contradicting that the Earth was the center of the universe instead of the sun.  Pope John Paul II rehabilitated the astronomer two decades ago, saying the church had made a mistake.


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