Some Of Galileo's Body Parts Had Quite An Adventure After He Died

Galileo Galilei has spent the last 300 years giving the finger to the universe via a glass case in a museum. And that's one of the less weird fates for his body parts.

Galileo died in in 1642, mostly blind and under house arrest, but still very much revered by scientists. At first, it looked like the church got the last laugh when it came to what happened to his body. The pope argued that as a heretic, he shouldn't be buried anywhere too significant. Instead of being buried in a big impressive tomb in a basilica, he was relegated to a small room next to a novice's chapel. And there he remained for 95 years.


As he lay dead, the reverence for him grew, as did the realization that he'd been right about heliocentrism. A new monument was built, and his body was moved. Well, most of it was moved.

Before it was interred in the new mausoleum, it came under the influence of one Francesco Gori, a lover of ancient Rome, neoclassicism, and the Renaissance. He and a few friends got together and dug into the body with knives, pliers, and saws. Galileo was put into his new tomb minus three fingers, a tooth, and a vertebra. The vertebra went to the University of Padua; the middle finger Gori gave to the public, and it still resides at the Museo Galileo in Florence, flipping off the world.

The tooth and the other two fingers went missing until 2009. At first, they went to an admiring marquis, who put them inside a glass vase, put the vase inside a wooden box, and topped the box with a bust of Galileo. There are worse ways to spend eternity.


The marquis passed it to his children, and they passed it to their children, but over time the story about the relics got muddled. Eventually, heirs in that family were surprised to find themselves suddenly in possession of a tooth and two fingers, and had no idea who they had belonged to. Meanwhile, historians concluded that Galileo's two extra fingers and his tooth were lost for all time.

At last, one of the marquis' descendants decided that they did not care for the macabre artifacts they'd been bequeathed, and put them up for auction. Auctions allow private owners, collectors, and historians to pool their collective knowledge and resources, so it didn't take long for people to put two and two together. The fingers and tooth rejoined their former confederate at the museum.


[Sources: Galileo's Finger, Galileo's Middle Finger, Galileo's Two Missing Fingers and Tooth Found]

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