7/26/2007

It is a remarkable bit of irony, that finger. Venerated, kept in reliquary, subjected to the same treatment as a Saint. But this finger belonged to no Saint. It is the long bony finger of an enemy of the church, a heretic. A man so dangerous to the religious institution he was made a prisoner in his own home. It sits in a small glass egg atop an inscribed marble base in the Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza, or the History of Science Museum in Florence, Italy. … As with a fine wine, it took some years for Galileo’s finger to age into something worth snapping off his skeletal hand. The finger was removed by one Anton Francesco Gori on March 12, 1737, 95 years after Galileo’s death. Passed around for a couple hundred years it finally came to rest in the Florence History of Science Museum. Today is sits among lodestones and telescopes, the only human fragment in a museum devoted entirely to scientific instruments. It is hard to know how Galileo would have felt about the final resting place of his finger. Whether the finger points upwards to the sky, where Galileo glimpsed the glory of the universe and saw God in mathematics, or if it sits eternally defiant to the church that condemned him, is for the viewer to decide.

Neko