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FLORENCE (Reuters Life!) - A tooth, thumb and finger cut off from the body of renowned Italian scientist Galileo, who died in 1642, go on display this week in Florence after an art collector found them by chance last year.
The body parts, along with another finger and a vertebrae, were cut from Galileo's corpse by scientists and historians during a burial ceremony 95 years after his death.
"The laymen and masons that were attending the ceremony thought that they should have some souvenir of Galileo's body," Paolo Galluzzi, director of Florence's Galileo Museum, told Reuters in an interview.
"They thought that having a piece of the man would have been a homage to his tradition. The idea of having relics of science is very similar, is a mirror of the relics of religion," he said.
The remains, along with two telescopes, a compass and a wealth of other instruments designed by Galileo, are the main attraction at the refurbished -- and renamed -- Galileo Museum, which reopens on June 10 after two years of renovation work.
While one of Galileo's fingers and the vertebrae had been conserved in Florence and Padua since 1737, the other finger, the thumb and the tooth had passed from one collector to another until they went missing in 1905.
Alberto Bruschi, a renowned Florence art collector, unknowingly bought them with other religious relics last October at an auction, where they were being sold as unidentified artifacts contained in a 17th century wooden case.
When Bruschi and his daughter noticed that Galileo's bust topped the case, and read a book by Galluzzi documenting how parts of the scientist's body had been cut off at his burial, they contacted the museum. Tests and studies confirmed that they had found Galileo's missing remains.
Galileo Galilei, born in Pisa in 1564, is considered one of the fathers of modern science due to his studies in physics, mathematics and particularly astronomy, where his work led to great advances in developing the telescope.
For 95 years after his death, ecclesiastical authorities refused to allow Galileo to be buried in consecrated ground because his findings -- and his support for the view which placed the sun, and not the Earth, at the center of the universe -- were contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
His body now lies in Florence's Santa Croce church, opposite the tomb of Michelangelo.
"My wish is that at some stage those fingers and tooth will be placed with him in his grave," said Bruschi. "That way, if one day he rises from his tomb, he'll be in one piece."
Editing by Paul Casciato