More Than 375 Years After His Death, Galileo Is Still Pointing Fingers

NASA // Museo Galileo
NASA // Museo Galileo / NASA // Museo Galileo

Galileo Galilei has been dead for the better part of four centuries. But he's still pointing fingers at the Museo Galileo in Florence, Italy.

When the famous scientist died at the age of 77 in 1642, his body was rather unceremoniously dumped in a closet-sized room in the basilica of Santa Croce in Florence. Storage was intended to be temporary while a monument was constructed to befit Galileo’s contributions to society. However, church officials were quick to point out that they didn't approve of a fancy tomb for a man they believed to be a heretic, so Galileo’s earthly remains lingered in this small closet for nearly 100 years.

In 1737, Galileo finally received the burial the public thought he deserved. He was moved from his cramped space to this grand monument in the main part of the church:

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Though he didn’t have far to go, along the way, Galileo somehow lost three fingers and a tooth to overzealous fans. One of the fingers was recovered not long after, and was apparently exhibited at the Biblioteca de Laurenziana for years. But the other two (and the tooth) were lost to history for centuries. Turns out they were being passed down privately within one family.

In 2009, the long-missing digits resurfaced at an auction. The purchaser took his new acquisitions to the Museo Galileo. Experts there were able to verify the authenticity of the items, so they added the fingers to the one they already had. You can see them all there today, along with the only surviving instruments designed and built by the man himself—two telescopes and a lens used to discover Jupiter’s moons.

Wikimedia Commons // Plidenbaum // CC BY-SA 3.0