Happy 455th birthday Galileo – Astronomy Magazine

Pope Urban VIII would not allow Galileo to be buried in the main church, the Basilica di Santa Croce. He was reinterred in the basilica a century later.

William Sheehan

At last, in 1638, the Roman authorities showed mercy to Galileo. He received permission to move for several months to his house in Florence so that he could more easily visit his doctors. After this brief interlude, he was back at Il Gioiello in September 1638 when John Milton, a 30-year-old poet from England, visited him there, “in darkness, and with dangers compassed round.”

Galileo died January 8, 1642. At first — because Urban continued his persecution of Galileo even in death — the astronomer was not allowed burial in the main church in Florence. So he rested for more than a century in the small convent chapel in Florence before finally being reinterred in a grand tomb in the main church, the Basilica di Santa Croce. Galileo’s resting place is right across from the tomb of Michelangelo.

Grand as his baroque tomb is, don’t look for Galileo’s monument there. Rather, gaze at his heavens. Look at the Moon, at Jupiter with its ever-revolving satellites, at Venus whose phases he first saw, at the Milky Way with its innumerable stars. These celestial objects will carry Galileo’s name to future generations. 

For another testament to how radically Galileo changed our perception of the celestial realm, seek out the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. It’s a work by Galileo’s Florentine friend, the painter Cigoli. The fresco remains today at one of the most prominent religious sites in Rome, the Pauline Chapel of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. 

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