The Museo Galileo in Florence is dedicated to the history of science, housing one of the largest collections of scientific instruments in the world. Many of these belonged to Galileo Galilei.
We barely think of it now, but there was a time when the Earth was considered to be the centre of everything, and God help/condemn anyone who dared to think or speak otherwise.
In the 16th and 17th century, the Roman Catholic Church had a particularly inflexible view on, well, everything. The Inquisition was in full swing and it operated on one basic principle –
“Anyone who attempts to construe a personal view of God which conflicts with Church dogma must be burned without pity.”Pope Innocent III
Enter Galileo, astronomer, engineer, inventor, physicist, mathematician and Catholic.
Born in Pisa in 1564, Galileo, was not the first to suggest that the Earth and planets revolved around the Sun (that was Copernicus) but he was the first to find evidence of the Copernican system thanks to observations made through the telescope he had designed.
Galileo knew his discoveries were controversial, but he couldn’t deny what he was seeing. He documented his findings on the celestial bodies in books and pamphlets but remained relatively quiet about heliocentrism itself. For a while, anyway.
In 1632, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Systems of the World: Ptolemaic and Copernican was published and Galileo quickly earned the wrath of Roman Catholic Church.
And, not (just) for the incredibly wordy title.
The book was banned and Galileo was hauled before The Inquisition. He was threatened with torture, tried and found guilty of “a strong suspicion of heresy”. This was a lesser charge than actual heresy, so Galileo avoided a fiery death and was instead placed under house arrest.
He was also forced to publicly renounce his findings and state that he was wrong and the Roman Catholic Church was right.
Galileo wanted to be a good and obedient Catholic, but couldn’t ignore the immutable truth and so, after he recanted, it is said he fixed his eyes on the sky and declared:
“- and yet it moves” (Epur si muove).
Which, if true, is a million times more eloquent than anything I would have said in the same situation.
Imprisoned in his home and in poor health, Galileo kept working. He wrote another book tongue-twistingly titled: Discourses and mathematical demonstrations concerning the two new sciences. The book was smuggled out of Italy and published in Holland in 1638.
Ironically, for someone who had narrowly avoided torture, his book, which contained mathematical formulas about motion, inclines and mass, would go on to torture high school students for centuries to come.
Galileo never saw his work on heliocentrism accepted in his lifetime. He died under house arrest in 1642. Still, he would have the last laugh…albeit from beyond the grave. The heliocentric model eventually became scientific fact and his final book (The Two Sciences) was so influential it cemented him as the Father of Modern Science.
Galileo was laid to rest in Florence, so it’s fitting that the city’s science museum is named after him and home to his instruments, manuscripts and fingers.
Well, two of them anyway.
Displayed like Christian relics, the disembodied digits are both a memorial to the man and, as one of them is his middle finger, the perfect parting message to his critics.
And that’s why Museo Galileo is on the list.
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