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Galileo Middle Finger on Exhibit Pointed Toward Vatican

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by hearit

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In The News

Two of Galileo's fingers, removed from his corpse by admirers in the 18th century, have gone on display at Museo Galileo museum in Florence, Italy--complete with the astronomer's middle finger pointed toward the Vatican that ruined his reputation.

The Museum of the History of Science had shut down for two years for renovations. It reopened Tuesday--calling itself The Galileo Museum--now that it's got those fingers and all.

Last year, the museum director announced 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 Italians do have a different way of doing things: it is a bit disconcerting that a) fingers (of anyone) were put on 'auction', b) that someone actually recognized fingers as Galileo's.

The Galileo fingers are currently on display in slender, glass cases in Florence at the newly-renamed Galileo Museum" which also houses a tooth from the famous astronomer. The previous Museum of the History of Science had already had a third finger from Galileo--apparently, acquisition of two more, plus a tooth, was enough to spur the name change. Now they're only missing seven digits to complete the collection.

In 1737, admirers of Galileo Galilei removed the three fingers, plus the tooth and a vertebra, from his body as it was being moved from a storage place to a monumental tomb — opposite that of Michelangelo, in Santa Croce Basilica in Florence. With admirers like that, who needs enemies.

The University of Padua, where Galileo taught for many years, apparently isn't letting go of the astronomer's backbone anytime soon--looks like the museum bearing the astronomer's name isn't getting the major bones.

Galileo's tooth, thumb and middle finger were held in a container that was passed from generation to generation within the same family--but apparently someone lost track of the pieces in the early 20th century when all traces had disappeared. Somehow the container turned of relics turned up at auction late last year, and detailed historical documents and the family's own records helped experts to identify them as Galileo's--says the museum.

Atop the container that the Galileo relics had been stored in was a wooden bust of Galileo--which shouldn't have made it quite so difficult for anyone to have recognized the fingers as belonging to the astronomer.

The Galileo Museum says it also has what are the only surviving instruments designed and built by Galileo--the lens of the telescope Galileo used to discover Jupiter's moons and two telescopes of the astronomer.

The Vatican had condemned Galileo for what it had said was a contradiction to church teaching--the Vatican's view at the time that the Earth, not the Sun, was the center of the universe. Two decades ago, Pope John Paul II kind of, sort of, admitted that the Catholic church had been wrong--but then again, visitors won't find The Galileo Museum in Vatican City.

Rumor has it that the middle finger of the Galileo exhibit--at Museo Galileo--is pointed or oriented toward the Vatican (supposedly courtesy of museum curators).


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