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Leave Galileo’s Remains Alone

June 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Hasn’t he suffered enough?

After fighting the Catholic Church (and losing), only to die in 1642 and have Catholic authorities refuse him the right to be buried on consecrated ground (i.e. in a Basilica), our poor friend Galileo Galilei now has two of his fingers and one tooth ON DISPLAY at a museum in the Italy.

In 1737, after 95 years of his body being in a storage room, Galileo was (finally!) moved to the Basilica of Florence’s Santa Croce.

But it would seem his followers decided it would be a great idea to remove two of the fingers from his right hand (how did they decide which?) and one of his teeth before finally laying him to rest in the Basilica. I’m not sure I would want to keep a piece of one of my dead friends, but that’s just me.

These remains were passed down to family members until 1905, when all traces of them were lost.

But last year, an unaware collector purchased a wooden case at a museum auction which had a bust of Galileo on it. Imagine this lover of antiquity’s surprise when he opened the case and found a glass vase with two fingers and a tooth inside!

The remains were later identified to be those of none other than Galileo Galilei.

These remains are currently on display at the newly re-named Galileo Museum in Florence, Italy.

I say: leave Galileo alone! Putting his remains on display is macabre and in poor taste. This pioneering scientist deserves a respectful and honorable resting place and burial, not to have his fingers and teeth put under glass as some sort of science exhibit.

I feel that this is wholly different from viewing other remains such as mummies. We have much to learn from mummified remains about the culture, practices, and religion of ancient Egypt. Conversely, we have written records and many other means of learning about the 1600-1700s without placing Galileo’s remains on display. They’re presence in the museum serves absolutely no purpose.