"My Favorite Museum Exhibit" is a series of posts aimed at giving BoingBoing readers a chance to show off their favorite exhibits and specimens, preferably from museums that might go overlooked in the tourism pantheon. I'll be featuring posts in this series all week. Want to see them all? Check out the archive post. I'll update the full list there every morning.
Most Americans probably associate the collecting of relics with the Catholic Church, and particularly with the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages—a time when shards of saints' bones and pieces of the true cross were big business, basically creating the West's first tourism industry.*
But hoarding and gawking at pieces of dead heroes is a human hobby with far older roots and a much broader appeal. It's been done all over the world, certainly since antiquity if not before, and it's not even exclusively associated with religion. This is one of those weird urges that just seems to be somehow intrinsically linked to how humans do culture.
Which brings us to these fingers. They belong not to a Catholic saint, but to Galileo Galilei, father of astronomy and (at the time of his death) condemned Catholic heretic. Because of the whole heresy thing, Galileo had to be buried in a back corner of the basilica where his family graves were. But, a hundred years later, after his reputation had considerably improved, fans disinterred his body and reburied it in a much more prominent spot. And, while they were at it, they cut off three fingers and removed a tooth. And started displaying all four bits in reliquaries like this.
Previously, Pesco told you about how two of the fingers actually went missing for 100 years, before turning up in 2009 when an anonymous donor turned them over to the Museo Galileo in Florence, Italy. Today, you can see all the relics of this secular saint on display there.
Thanks to Lauren Kinsman and Karen Ackroff who both submitted this exhibit separately. The photo I've used here, showing two of the fingers, was taken by Lauren Kinsman.
*In regards to true cross relics, there's a great John Calvin quote about there being enough pieces of the true cross in circulation that, if you brought them all together, you could build Noah's Ark. This is probably the only time John Calvin was ever funny. And I'm sure he felt bad about it.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.