1. Home
  2. /
  3. The University of Padua safeguards Galileo’s vertebra

The University of Padua safeguards Galileo’s vertebra

On 2 August 1823, the University of Padua received the fifth lumbar vertebra of Galileo Galilei as a gift by Domenico Thiene.

The history behind those in possession of this relic is quite long.  Entombed in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence after his death on 8 January 1642 and disinterred about a century later on 12 March 1737, Galileo’s final resting place lies within a mausoleum dedicated to him in the same basilica.

Appointed by Grand Duke Gian Gastone de’ Medici, a commission comprised of Antonio Cocchi (physician and naturalist), Giovanni Targioni Tozzetti (botanist and naturalist), Giovanni Vincenzo Capponi (poet and scholar), Anton Francesco Gori (Provost of the Baptistery of San Giovanni) and the Giovanni Camillo di Pasquale di Piero Piombanti (notary) moved Galileo’s body. Upon revealing Galileo’s skeleton, members of the commission removed portions of his corpse as relics.  After several exchanges, the vertebra reached

Domenico Thiene in 1820, who subsequently donated it to the University of Padua under the rectorship of Antonio Meneghelli.

Anthropological measurements of Galileo’s fifth lumbar vertebra show that no serious pathological processes are present. In fact, radiographic and CT studies show only slight arthritic irregularities of the margins of the articular processes, with minimal osteophytotic of the vertebral profiles.

Recent historical medical studies have highlighted how the famous scientist may have died due to reactive arthritis, probably triggered by a Chlamydia pneumonia infection, and then complicated over time with an eye inflammation that led Galileo to bilateral blindness. The absence of pathological traces on the vertebra does not exclude the form of reactive arthritis from which Galileo suffered.

Today, surveying high-density 3D points and micrometric resolutions have made it possible to define the three-dimensional morphological and morphometric characteristics of Galileo’s vertebra thanks to the structured light scanner supplied by the Department of Cultural Heritage of the University of Padua

vertebra gali

Left: the original vertebra and its computerized image
Right: colouring of the reproduction of Galileo Galilei’s vertebra

The vertebra, using a rotating plate synchronized via software with the scanner, was detected from different perspectives in order to obtain a complete and continuous survey beyond the morphological complexity of the specimen.  Due to the presence of undercuts, shadow areas and translucent details (such as the seal) are less visible.

The 3D model of Galileo’s vertebra offers the morphological information needed to reproduce a skeletal prototype. The model optimized the information contained within it and converted it into instructions for the 3D printing machine to produce. To minimize the error, a second copy was printed and used for colour and proofs. This phase was made possible thanks to the photographic campaign carried out during the survey by replicating the original colour of the bone fragment and repeating the complicated sequence that makes up the ligature of the original vertebra.