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Maria Celeste

Maria Celeste

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Sister Maria Celeste born Virginia Gamba, was the daughter of the famous Italian scientist Galileo Galilei
Galileo Galilei
Galileo Galilei , was an Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher who played a major role in the Scientific Revolution. His achievements include improvements to the telescope and consequent astronomical observations and support for Copernicanism...

 and Marina Gamba
Marina Gamba
Marina Gamba of Venice was the mother of three of Galileo Galilei's illegitimate children.Marina Gamba was born around 1570 in Venice....

. She was the eldest of three siblings, with a sister Livia and a brother Vincenzio. All three children were born out of wedlock, and their father considered his daughters Virginia and Livia to be unmarriageable. He placed them in the San Matteo convent shortly after Virginia's thirteenth birthday. Virginia chose a new name, Maria Celeste, in honor of the virgin Mary, and her father's love of astronomy
Astronomy is a natural science that deals with the study of celestial objects and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth...


Although Maria Celeste was confined inside the walls of the convent at San Matteo for the remainder of her life, she was a constant source of support for both her father, whose books began a controversy in the Catholic Church, and the convent. Maria Celeste served as San Matteo's apothecary
Apothecary is a historical name for a medical professional who formulates and dispenses materia medica to physicians, surgeons and patients — a role now served by a pharmacist and some caregivers....

, and also kept the convent afloat through the influence of her father. She sent him herbal cures for his various maladies while additionally seeing to the convent's finances and occasionally staging plays from inside the convent's cloister
A cloister is a rectangular open space surrounded by covered walks or open galleries, with open arcades on the inner side, running along the walls of buildings and forming a quadrangle or garth...

ed walls. There is evidence she prepared the manuscripts for some of Galileo's books.

The Catholic Inquisition
The Inquisition, Inquisitio Haereticae Pravitatis , was the "fight against heretics" by several institutions within the justice-system of the Roman Catholic Church. It started in the 12th century, with the introduction of torture in the persecution of heresy...

 tried Galileo for heresy
Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma. It is distinct from apostasy, which is the formal denunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion...

 in 1633. He was forced to recant his view that the Earth was not the center of the Universe, and he was confined to house arrest for the remainder of his life. Soon after Galileo returned to Arcetri in disgrace, Maria Celeste contracted dysentery
Dysentery is an inflammatory disorder of the intestine, especially of the colon, that results in severe diarrhea containing mucus and/or blood in the faeces with fever and abdominal pain. If left untreated, dysentery can be fatal.There are differences between dysentery and normal bloody diarrhoea...

, and she died on April 2, 1634. She was 33 years old.

After Galileo's death, 124 letters from Maria Celeste were discovered among his papers. These were the remainder of a vast correspondence between the two. It is not known what happened to Galileo's responses to Maria Celeste, and it is likely that they were destroyed by church authorities.

Of Maria Celeste, Galileo once wrote, "[She is] a woman of exquisite mind, singular goodness, and most tenderly attached to me."

The International Astronomical Union
International Astronomical Union
The International Astronomical Union IAU is a collection of professional astronomers, at the Ph.D. level and beyond, active in professional research and education in astronomy...

 has named the impact crater Maria Celeste
Maria Celeste (crater)
Maria Celeste is an impact crater on Venus named in honor of Maria Celeste, the daughter of Galileo Galilei....

 on the planet Venus after her. All but a few of the geographical features of Venus are named for historical and mythological women.

The book Galileo's Daughter
Galileo's Daughter
Galileo's Daughter is a book by Dava Sobel. It is based on the surviving letters of Galileo Galilei's daughter, the nun Suor Maria Celeste and explores the relationship between Galileo and his daughter.- Historical background :...

(hardcover, ISBN 0802713432, paperback, ISBN 0140280553) describes her life and that of her father. She appears as a character in the play Life of Galileo
Life of Galileo
Life of Galileo , also known as Galileo, is a play by the twentieth-century German dramatist Bertolt Brecht. The first version of the play was written between 1937 and 1939; the second version was written between 1945–1947, in collaboration with Charles Laughton...

, which is fictionalized and does not give an accurate portrayal of her life.

External links

  • Official Site for the book Galileo's Daughter
  • Maria Celeste Galilei. The Galileo Project, Rice University
    Rice University
    William Marsh Rice University, commonly referred to as Rice University or Rice, is a private research university located on a heavily wooded campus in Houston, Texas, United States...