Virginia Galilei (1600 - 1634)

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Death: Died in Florence, Italy
Occupation: Nun
Managed by: Natalie Tan
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Virginia Galilei

She was born Virginia Gamba, was the daughter of the famous Italian scientist Galileo Galilei and Marina Gamba. 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 herself a new name, Maria Celeste, in honor of the virgin Mary, and her father's love of the science of astronomy.

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 to which she was sent. Maria Celeste served as San Matteo's apothecary, 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 cloistered walls. There is evidence she prepared the manuscripts for some of Galileo's books.

The Catholic Inquisition tried Galileo for heresy that was considered to be committed against the church in 1633. He was forced to recant his view that the Earth was not the center of the Universe, and he was confined in house arrest for the rest of his life. Soon after Galileo returned to Arcetri in disgrace, Maria Celeste contracted dysentery, and she died on April 2, 1634, at the age of 33 years.

After Galileo's death, 124 letters from Maria Celeste were discovered among his papers. These were the remainder of a vast correspondence with 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 has named the impact crater Maria Celeste on the planet Venus after her. All but a few of the geographical features of Venus are named for women, with one of the exceptions being Maxwell Montes, discovered by means of radar, which was named for James Clerk Maxwell, the mathematical physicist whose equations predicted the existence of radio waves.

The book Galileo's Daughter (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, which is fictionalized and does not give an accurate portrayal of her life.


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Sister Maria Celeste Galilei's Timeline

August 12, 1600
April 2, 1634
Age 33
Florence, Italy