Galileo is called the “father of modern science.” But in 1633, he was called a heretic by the Roman Catholic Church, forced to recant his scientific belief that the Earth revolved around the Sun. Now, centuries later, Galileo's tooth, thumb, and index finger are on display at the Galileo Museum in Florence, Italy. As the New York Times reports, these relics highlight the continuing tensions between science and the Catholic church.

Galileo was born Galileo di Vincenzo Bonaiuti de' Galilei in 1564 in Pisa. His contributions to modern science, astronomy and physics are considered to have initiated modern science. After 1610, he clashed with the church by supporting heliocentrism, which placed the Sun, not the Earth, at the center of the universe. This refuted the Bible’s stance that the world cannot be moved, and Galileo was forced to recant his position and to live out the rest of his life under house arrest. In 1992, the church acknowledged that the judge who convicted Galileo was wrong, but the proceedings did not completely clear Galileo.

In fact, the Catholic church has never acknowledged that Galileo was correct in his theory that the Earth is not the center of the universe. In 1992, Pope John Paul found “that the judges who condemned Galileo had erred but that the scientist had also erred in his arrogance in thinking that his theory would be accepted with no physical evidence.” The director of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture, Monsignor Gianfranco Ravasi, recently referred to the errors of “both sides” when talking about the church’s treatment of Galileo.

Nonetheless, this has not stopped Galileo’s remains from being displayed in the Catholic tradition of relics. Paolo Galluzzi is the director of the Galileo Museum who put Galileo's body parts on display. As he told the NY Times, “He’s a secular saint, and relics are an important symbol of his fight for freedom of thought.”

It seems that Galileo, who died in 1642, was not given a church burial because of his “heresy.” About a century later, he was unearthed in a Masonic ceremony, where several of his fingers, a tooth and vertebrae were removed as souvenirs. Galileo was then reburied in Florence’s Santa Croce Church next to the likes of Michelangelo. The thumb, index finger, and tooth disappeared, only to recently resurface. Just as the Catholic church displays the body parts of its saints, Galileo’s digits are now being observed and revered by his scientific followers.

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Relics of Galileo on display in Florence
Body parts of the world famous heretic are revealed to supporters as Catholic relics are displayed to the faithful.