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Galileo Galilei ‘s Middle Finger Relic is Kept in Florence

The Uffizi Gallery museum complex in Florence houses priceless works of art, such as Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and Primavera or Caravaggio’s Young Bacchus. Among these and other material works, there is a peculiar one that most people are unaware of: Galileo Galilei’s middle finger.

Since 1927, Galileo Galilei’s middle finger has been on display in Florence

A tormented soul, a genius, and a visionary with few equals, and perhaps an era too backward for his indescribable brilliance. The relic is a perfect summary of the astronomer, philosopher, and mathematician from Pisa’s unglorious life.

Before arriving at the Museo Galileo, formerly the Museum of the History of Science and part of the Uffizi complex, the famous finger traveled extensively.

Galileo Galilei
Galileo Galilei, the Catholic scientist against the church

The finger has not always been displayed in a museum

After his death (January 8, 1492), Galileo Galilei ‘s body was buried in a small chamber beneath the bell tower of the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence. The family was unable to fulfill the scientist’s wish to be buried in the family tomb of the basilica. Power struggles within the royal court and strong religiosity compromised the burial ceremonies. There were no alternatives but to bury him discreetly, hidden from the public eye, in a small chamber of the basilica…

Gian Gastone De Medici
Gian Gastone De Medici

The arrival of Gian Battista De Medici (1671-1737), known as Gian Gastone, changed the game. His determination to contain the power of the church found strong support in the emerging Freemasonry. The new movement promoted the exhumation of the scientist’s body to give him a dignified burial ceremony, albeit more than 100 years later. The exhumation took place on March 12, 1737.

During the Ceremony, 3 Fingers, a Tooth, and a Vertebra were Removed

During the burial ceremony, something that many consider excessively macabre and disrespectful happened. The writer Anton Francesco Gori (1691-1757) acquired the middle finger.

During the exhumation, other scholars removed a total of 3 fingers, a tooth, and a vertebra; the last one is still preserved among Galilean relics at the University of Padua. As for the other relics, their whereabouts are uncertain.

The middle finger of the right hand is now preserved in a cylindrical marble base case, richly decorated with golden embellishments. The astronomer Tommaso Perelli (1704-1783) had a celebratory inscription engraved, as follows:

Galileo Galilei's middle finger
Celebratory display at the Galilei Museum | Credit
“Leipsana ne spernas digiti, quo dextera coeli
Mensa vias, nunquam visos mortalibus orbes
Mostravit, parvo fragilis molimine vitri
Ausa prior facinus, cui non Titania quondam
Sufficit pubes congestis montibus altis
Nequidquam superas conata ascendere in arces.”

If you are interested in physics, astronomy, or mathematics, or are simply a lover of culture and the history of science, I recommend visiting the Galileo Museum. I had the pleasure and fortune of visiting it on a warm afternoon several years ago on a school trip, but unfortunately, I did not notice the famous finger…

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