Science

Galileo's lost fingers displayed in Florence

Two fingers from Galileo's right hand and one of his teeth are now on display in a Florence museum after being deemed lost for more than a century.

Two fingers from Galileo's right hand and one of his teeth are now on display in a Florence museum after being deemed lost for more than a century.

The fingers and tooth were removed — along with a third finger and a vertebra — from the astronomer's corpse on March 12, 1737, when his body was moved from the secret storage room where he had first been laid to the monumental tomb in the basilica of Florence's Santa Croce.

When Italian scientist Galileo Galilei died in 1642, Catholic authorities refused to allow him to be buried in consecrated ground because his findings were contrary to church teachings. Based on his astronomical observations, Galileo supported Renaissance astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus's assertion that the sun is at the centre of the universe and not the Earth.

But 95 years after his death, Galileo's supporters succeeded in reburying his remains in the basilica. Some of those present at the ceremony removed parts of his corpse while the coffin lid was open — including the thumb, index finger and middle finger of his right hand.

One of the fingers was preserved in the Florence Museum, while the vertebra ended up at the University of Padua. But the history of the other two fingers and the tooth was only known up to 1905 when all traces of them disappeared, according to staff at the newly reopened Museum of the History of Science where the relics are now on display.

Last year, the museum announced that the body parts had reappeared at an auction, where a collector bought a wooden case surmounted by a wooden bust of Galileo. Inside it was an 18th-century glass vase containing two fingers and a tooth. The remains were later positively identified as belonging to Galileo.

The Museum of the History of Science, which reopened Tuesday after a two-year renovation, also displays the only surviving instruments designed and built by Galileo, including the lens of the telescope he used to discover Jupiter's moons.

With files from The Associated Press

now