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How collectors found Galileo's lost body parts

This amusing piece of news comes directly from the press office of the newly re-opened Museo Galileo: They've found Galileo's missing fingers and tooth in a 19th-century reliquary, now on display alongside another body part already owned by the museum. An unusual case of almost religious devotion to science... galileo-relicOn the occasion of its reopening, the Museo Galileo is exhibiting for the first time relics of the great scientist - two fingers and a tooth - thought to be lost, but recently found by chance. Their authenticity has been confirmed by the Soprintendente al Polo Museale Fiorentino, Cristina Acidini, and the Director of the Museo Galileo, Paolo Galluzzi. This important discovery was made by the Florentine collector Alberto Bruschi, who states:
It happened by chance, but all thanks to my daughter Candida Bruschi and her love of collecting. Without her, I would never have bought this object.
The object in question is a nineteenth-century reliquary put up for auction by the Pandolfini auction house last October. Probably its former owner was unaware of its contents, given the starting price of 650-800 euros. The catalogue describing it as follows: “inlaid and turned wood, à jour upper part with glass cylinder inside containing a relic.” “I bid on it at the express request of my daughter”, recalls Bruschi. “She is very religious, she collects reliquaries, and she asked me to buy just that lot for her. The price went up to several thousand euros before I finally got it. Then I brought it home in a taxi in a bag that Pandolfini gave me.”
Candida immediately noticed the small wooden bust surmounting the reliquary. It looks like Galileo, she said. A few days later, that first distracted intuition became a strong suspicion. The theses that Candida was writing at the time involved, in fact, Galileo’s tomb in the Basilica of Santa Croce, and she had happened to read the article by Professor Galluzzi on the disinterment of the scientist’s remains. That article opened her eyes. She phoned Dr. Acidini, who called Galluzzi. The mystery was happily solved thanks to them.

Galileo had gastric reflux and was a tooth-grinder

The tooth - a premolar - has been examined by surgical dentist Cesare Paoleschi:
Although badly worn, it provides some interesting information on Galileo’s health. The erosion may be due to gastric reflux. Loss of the bone attachment (parodontitis) is also evident, showing that the tooth must have given him some pain. The extensive worn surfaces reveal a tendency to bruxism: that is, Galileo ground his teeth while sleeping.

How did they lose parts of Galileo's body, anyway?

For 95 years after the death of Galileo on January 8, 1642, efforts to give the great master an honourable burial place had been opposed by the ecclesiastical authorities, who resolutely refused to bury on sacred ground the remains of the scandalous man who they had in fact condemned to death. Finally, on the evening of March 12, 1737, permissions in place, the mortal spoils of Galileo were transfered from the secret storage room where they had first been laid to the monumental tomb in Santa Croce, opposite that of Michelangelo, where they still remain today. The erection of the tomb and the translation of the relics was an a manifestation on the part of the last Medici sovereign, Grand Duke Gian Gastone, to proclaim the autonomy of the State from ecclesiastical intrusion. Galileo's honourable burial was an important celebration of the scientist as a symbol of - and martyr to - freedom of thought. The solemn ceremony was attended by numerous representatives of the cultural world and members of the city’s most illustrious nobility. A notarial document records the whole thing, including some curious episodes... Giovanni Targioni Tozzetti, a great historian of science and competent naturalist, drew from his pocket a knife, with which organic fragments from Galileo’s cadaver were removed (that's a nice way to say he chopped off bits of body!). Participating in this macabre rite were the refined scholar of antiquity Anton Francesco Gori, Marchese Vincenzio Capponi (Director of the Accademia Fiorentina), and Antonio Cocchi (physician and man of letters). Thanks to the notary’s precious record, we know that, from the badly deteriorated remains of Galileo’s corpse, three fingers on the right hand (the thumb, index finger and middle finger), a vertebra (the fifth), and a tooth were removed. Targioni Tozzetti later confessed that he had found it hard to resist the temptation to appropriate the skull that had contained the brain of such exceptional genius! Some of these “souvenirs” of the great hero of science have been carefully preserved to this day in museums: the middle finger in Florence, and the vertebra in Padua. The other two fingers and the tooth had been taken by Marchese Capponi. Their history, consisting of continuous changes of ownership, was known up to 1905, when all traces of them disappeared. It's a stroke of fortune, then, that the remains turned up in an unmarked reliquary, if anything so that we can tell this macabre story today. Now in the Galileo Museum you can see Galileo's middle finger permanently telling everyone to screw off, and right nearby, his thumb and forefinger, which would allow him to make an Italian gesture (holding out the thumb and index and rotating the wrist back and forth) that says "not really" or "I don't think so".