"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. Read the rest