Sunday, November 13, 2011

Galileo's Tomb

Welcome back to Kind of Curious! I hate to say, but it’s been almost a year since I last posted. So I have quite a backlog of curious things to write about.

One of the things I did during 2011 was to visit Italy with my wife. This was the first time either of us had been to Europe, so we were completely in awe of this entirely different environment and way of life. Of course we knew that a whole “old world” was out there, which had brought both of our families to the new world. But until we experienced it ourselves, no book or movie could explain it to us (although maybe a blog could) …

A great place to begin describing the wonderful things we saw in Italy is Santa Croce Basilica in Florence. There seems to be a church on every street corner in Italy (sometimes 3 or 4 on a corner), each with priceless art or religious relics of the kind that in the US can only be found in museums.

What is unique about Santa Croce is that it has become a monument to the famous sons and daughters of Italy. Because of this, it is sometimes called the “Pantheon of Italian Glories” (“pantheon” being Greek for “temple of the gods”). That’s sort of a sacrilegious nickname for a church, but not the only inconsistent thing going on here as you will see.

A church has been at this site since 1210. The caption for the above drawing on Santa Croce’s website begins “around 1252 it was felt necessary to construct a church that was larger…”. I would have to agree with that. The priests look a little worried about where the congregation is going to sit.

The present church began construction in 1294 and was mostly completed by 1442. We get excited in the US when we see something from the 1700’s! The marble façade that gives the church the look it has today was not completed until 1863. Who in the US would embark on a construction project that would take over 500 years to complete?

Santa Croce’s journey to become the “Pantheon of Italian Glories” began in 1570, when they decided to build a tomb for Renaissance artist Michelangelo, who lived much of his life in Florence.

Since that time they have added many more tombs of the rich and famous, including that of the “father of modern science” Galileo, which was completed in 1737. Renaissance author Machiavelli is also buried here. If you deceive and manipulate others for your personal gain you are “Machiavellian”, like the advice given to the title character in Machiavelli’s book The Prince.

Galileo’s tomb is shown at the beginning of this post. It is ironic that Galileo is buried here, considering his rocky relationship with the Catholic church. Galileo was placed under house arrest by the Inquisition in 1633 for his support of Copernicus’ heretical observation that the earth revolved around the sun (rather than the earth being the center of the universe as described in the bible). Galileo died in 1642.

The church allowed some of Galileo’s works to be reprinted in 1718, which would explain why a monument in his honor would be allowed in Santa Croce in 1737. But his book that was at the center of this controversy, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, was not allowed to be reprinted in its uncensored version until 1835. And it wasn’t until 1992 that Pope John Paul II finally admitted that the church had made a mistake in condemning Galileo!

Incidentally, Machiavelli’s book The Prince was also banned by the Catholic church. But this was not until after his death, and he was not accused of heresy. Although his Machiavellian ideas do not seem Christ-like, the book was actually banned because French leaders who were following its advice were being accused of corruption.

Here is the exterior of the church. Note that the marble is only on the front. There was no word as to whether they are planning on finishing the sides and back with marble as well. Give them time, it’s only been 700 years. And note the blue Star of David just below the peak of the top roof. The architect for the façade was Jewish, and in an inspiring act of interfaith cooperation was allowed to include the Star of David. He is even buried on the church grounds.


  1. It's lovely to see a blog reappear on my reading list after a long period of absence, welcome back! :o)

    I need to get myself back to Florence! I believe I was 5 when my family went? Obviously don't remember anything of the trip (which included Pisa and Rome) and the only time I've been back to the boot was a brief visit to Genoa for work... My parents went back to Florence 2 years ago and went on and on and on about how lovely it was.

    Those toombs are gorgeous! I love the irony of Gallileo being buried there. ;o)

    I look forward to reading more from your trip! And hoping to contrast your observations with mine if you land in a city I've visited.


  2. Thanks Cris! It's nice to be back writing again.

  3. "Galileo was placed under house arrest by the Inquisition in 1633 for his support of Copernicus’ heretical observation that the earth revolved around the sun (rather than the earth being the center of the universe as described in the bible)."

    Nowhere does it say this in the Bible.


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