Monday, November 23, 2009
PZ Megahertz had better watch out:
Two fingers cut from the hand of Italian astronomer Galileo nearly 300 years ago have been rediscovered more than a century after they were last seen, an Italian museum director said Monday.
They were purchased recently at an auction by a person who brought them to the Museum of the History of Science in Florence, suspecting what they were, museum director Paolo Galluzzi said.
Three fingers were cut from Galileo's hand in March 1737, when his body was moved from a temporary monument to its final resting place in Florence, Italy. The last tooth remaining in his lower jaw was also taken, Galluzzi said. ...
Removing body parts from the corpse was an echo of a practice common with saints, whose digits, tongues and organs were revered by Catholics as relics with sacred powers.
There is an irony in Galileo's having been subjected to the same treatment, since he was persecuted by the Catholic Church for advocating the theory that the earth circles the sun, rather than the other way around. The Inquisition forced him to recant, and jailed him in 1634.
The people who cut off his fingers essentially considered him a secular saint, Galluzzi said, noting the fingers that were removed were the ones he would have used to hold a pen.