Biographies & Memoirs


In the chambers of the Holy office of the Inquisition

On tuesday, April 12, 1633, after Galileo had waited two months at the Tuscan embassy, the commissary general of the Holy Office of the Inquisition finally brought him in for questioning. Although several well-known paintings of Galileo standing before the Inquisition portray him ringed by large numbers of churchmen, he gave his actual testimony to just two officials and a secretary. The ten cardinals who were to serve as judges and jury did not attend this stage of the proceedings, which they could read later at their leisure, or be briefed about at one of their regular Wednesday morning meetings.


SIGNOR GERI [Bocchineri—Sestilia’s brother and the grand duke’s private secretary] informed me of the conditions imposed on you on account of your affair, Sire, that alas you are detained in the chambers of the Holy Office; on the one hand, this gives me great distress, convinced as I am that you find yourself with scant peace of mind, and perhaps also deprived of all bodily comforts: on the other hand, considering the need for events to reach this stage, in order for the authorities to dismiss you, as well as the kindliness with which everyone there has treated you up till now, and above all the justice of the cause and your innocence in this instance, I console myself and cling to the expectation of a happy and prosperous triumph, with the help of blessed God, to Whom my heart never ceases to cry out, commending you with all the love and trust it contains.

The only thing for you to do now is to guard your good spirits, taking care not to jeopardize your health with excessive worry, but to direct your thoughts and hopes to God, Who, like a tender, loving father, never abandons those who confide in Him and appeal to Him for help in time of need. Dearest lord father, I wanted to write to you now, to tell you I partake in your torments, so as to make them lighter for you to bear: I have given no hint of these difficulties to anyone else, wanting to keep the unpleasant news to myself, and to speak to the others only of your pleasures and satisfactions. Thus we are all awaiting your return, eager to enjoy your conversation again with delight.

And who knows, Sire, if while I sit writing, you may not already find yourself released from your predicament and free of all concerns? Thus may it please the Lord, Who must be the One to console you, and in Whose care I leave you.


Most affectionate daughter,


An anxious daughter penned these words in a very controlled hand, much smaller than her usual script. But as optimistically as she might have hoped for the crisis to reach a speedy conclusion while a few letters crossed in the mail, the ordeal of her father’s trial had only just begun. Its unfolding is preserved as follows in the testimony recorded verbatim at the time.

Summoned, there appeared personally in Rome at the Palace of the Holy Office, in the usual quarters of the Reverend Father Commissary, fully in the presence of the Reverend Father Fra Vincenzo Maculano da Firenzuola, Commissary General, assisted by Lord Carlo Sinceri, Prosecutor of the Holy Office, etc.

Galileo, son of the late Vincenzio Galilei, Florentine, seventy years of age, who, sworn to testify the truth, was asked by the Fathers the following:

Q: By what means and how long ago did he come to Rome.

A: I arrived in Rome the first Sunday of Lent, and I came in a litter.

Q: Whether he came of his own accord, or was called, or was ordered by someone to come to Rome, and by whom.

A: In Florence the Father Inquisitor ordered me to come to Rome and present myself to the Holy Office.

Q: Whether he knows or can guess the reason that this order was given to him.

A: I imagine that the cause of my having been ordered to come before the Holy Office is to give an account of my recently printed book; and I suppose this because of the order given to the printer and to myself, a few days before I was ordered to come to Rome, not to issue any more of those books, and similarly because the printer was ordered by the Father Inquisitor to send the original manuscript of my book to the Holy Office in Rome.

Q: That he explain what is in the book he imagines was the reason for the order that he come to the city.

A: A It is a book written in dialogue, and it treats of the constitution of the world, or rather, of the two chief systems, that is, the arrangements of the heavens and of the elements.

Q: Whether, if he were shown the said book, he would recognize it as his.

A: I hope so; I hope that if it is shown to me I shall recognize it.

And there was shown to him a book printed at Florence in the year 1632, with the title Dialogue of Galileo Galilei Lyncean etc. [Exhibit A]; and when he had looked at it and inspected it, he said: “I know this book very well, and it is one of those printed in Florence, and I acknowledge it as mine and composed by me.”

Q: Whether he likewise acknowledges each and every word contained in the said book as his.

A: I know this book shown to me, for it is one of those printed in Florence; and I acknowledge all it contains as having been written by me.

Q: When and where he composed the said book, and how long it took him.

A: As to the place, I composed it at Florence, beginning ten or twelve years ago; and I was occupied on it about six or eight years, though not continuously.

Q: Whether he was in Rome another time, particularly in the year 1616, and for what occasion.

A: I was in Rome in 1616, and afterward I was here in the second year of the pontificate of His Holiness Urban VIII, and lastly I was here three years ago, on the occasion of my wish to have my book printed. The occasion for my being in Rome in the year 1616 was that, hearing questions raised about the opinion of Nicolaus Copernicus concerning the motion of the Earth and stability of the Sun and the order of the celestial spheres, in order to assure myself against holding any but holy and Catholic opinions, I came to hear what was proper to hold concerning this matter.

Q: Whether he came because he was summoned, and if so, for what reason he was summoned, and where and with whom he discussed the said matter.

A: In 1616 I came to Rome of my own accord, without being summoned, and for the reason I told you. In Rome I treated of this business with some Cardinals who governed the Holy Office at that time, in particular with Cardinals Bellarmino, Aracoeli, San Eusebio, Bonsi, and d’Ascoli.

Q: What specifically he discussed with the said cardinals.

A: The occasion for discussing with these cardinals was that they wished to be informed of the doctrine of Copernicus, his book being very difficult to understand for those outside the mathematical and astronomical profession. In particular they wanted to know the arrangement of the celestial orbs under the Copernican hypothesis, how he places the Sun at the center of the planets’ orbits, how around the Sun he places next the orbit of Mercury, around the latter that of Venus, then the Moon around the Earth, and around this Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn; and in regard to motion, he makes the Sun stationary at the center and the Earth turn on itself and around the Sun, that is, on itself with the diurnal motion and around the Sun with the annual motion.

Q: Since, as he says he came to Rome to be able to have the truth about the said matter, let him state also what was the outcome of this business.

A: Concerning the controversy that went on about the said opinion of the stability of the Sun and motion of the Earth, it was determined by the Holy Congregation of the Index that this opinion, taken absolutely, is repugnant to Holy Scripture, and it is to be admitted only ex suppositione, the way in which Copernicus takes it.

Q: Whether he was then notified of the said decision, and by whom.

A: I was indeed notified of the said decision of the Congregation of the Index, and I was notified by Lord Cardinal Bellarmino.

Q: Let him state what the Most Eminent Bellarmino told him about the said decision, whether he said anything else about the matter, and if so what.

A: Lord Cardinal Bellarmino informed me that the said opinion of Copernicus could be held hypothetically, as Copernicus himself had held it. His Eminence knew that I held it hypothetically, namely in the way Copernicus held it, as you can see from an answer by the same Lord Cardinal to a letter of Father Master Paolo Antonio Foscarini, Provincial of the Carmelites; I have a copy of this, and in it one finds these words: “I say that it seems to me that Your Reverence and Signor Galilei are proceeding prudently by limiting yourselves to speaking hypothetically and not absolutely.” This letter by the said Lord Cardinal is dated 12 April 1615. Moreover, he told me that otherwise, namely taken absolutely, the opinion could be neither held nor defended.

Q: What decision was made and then notified to him in the month of February 1616.

A: In the month of February 1616, Lord Cardinal Bellarmino told me that since the opinion of Copernicus, taken absolutely, contradicted Holy Scripture, it could not be held or defended, but that it might be taken and used hypothetically. In conformity with this I keep a certificate by Lord Cardinal Bellarmino himself, made in the month of May, on the 26th, 1616, in which he says that the opinion of Copernicus cannot be held or defended, being against the Holy Scripture. I present a copy of this certificate, and here it is.

And he exhibited a sheet of paper written on one side, about twelve lines, beginning “We, Roberto Cardinal Bellarmino, having" and ending “This 26th day of May, 1616,” which was accepted as evidence and marked with the letter B. He then added: “The original of this affidavit I have with me in Rome, and it is entirely written in the hand of Cardinal Bellarmino.”

Q: Whether, when he was notified of the above-mentioned matters, there were any other persons present, and who they were.

A: When Lord Cardinal Bellarmino told me what I have said about the opinion of Copernicus there were some Dominican Fathers present; but I did not know them, nor have I seen them since.

Q: The said fathers being present at that time, whether they or anyone else gave him an injunction of any kind about the same subject, and if so what.

A: As I recall it, the affair came about in this manner: One morning Lord Cardinal Bellarmino sent for me, and he told me a certain particular, which I should like to speak to the ear of His Holiness before that of any one else; but in the end he told me that the opinion of Copernicus could not be held or defended, being contrary to Holy Scripture. As to those Dominican Fathers, I do not remember whether they were there first, or came afterward; nor do I recall whether they were present when the Cardinal told me that the said opinion could not be held. And it may be that some precept was made to me that I might not hold or defend the said opinion, but I have no memory of it, because this was many years ago.

Q: Whether, if one were to read to him what he was then told and ordered with injunction, he would recall that.

A: I do not remember that I was told anything else, nor can I know whether I should recall what was then said to me even if it were read to me; and I say freely what I do recall, because I claim not to have contravened in any way the precept, that is, not to have held or defended the said opinion of the motion of the Earth and stability of the Sun on any account.

And having been told that the said injunction, given to him then in the presence of witnesses, states that he cannot in any way whatever hold, defend, or teach the said opinion, he was asked whether he remembers how and by whom he was so ordered.

The interrogators were referring now to the minutes of the Holy Office for the year 1616, which contained numerous entries that mentioned Galileo by name, though he had not given any deposition in the chambers himself at that time. On February 25, 1616, for example, a brief entry noted: “His Holiness [Pope Paul V] ordered the Most Illustrious Lord Cardinal Bellarmino to summon before him the said Galileo and admonish him to abandon the said opinion; and in case of his refusal to obey, the Father Commissary, in the presence of a notary and witnesses, is to issue him an injunction to abstain altogether from teaching or defending this doctrine and opinion and even from discussing it; and further, if he should not acquiesce, he is to be imprisoned.”

Following on the same page in the Inquisition records, the next entry is dated February 26:

In the Palace and residence of Cardinal Bellarmino, Galileo being called and being in the presence of the Cardinal and of the Reverend Father Michelangelo Seghizzi of Lodi, of the Order of Preachers, Commissary General of the Holy Office, the Cardinal admonished the said Galileo of the error of the above-mentioned opinion and warned him to abandon it; and immediately and without delay, the said Cardinal being still present, the said Commissary gave Galileo a precept and ordered him in the name of His Holiness the Pope and the whole body of the Holy Office to the effect that the said opinion that the Sun is the center of the universe and the Earth moves must be entirely abandoned, nor might he from then on in any way hold, teach, or defend it by word or in writing; otherwise the Holy Office would proceed against him.

The hastily added warning from the former commissary general, which may have struck Galileo as merely a rehash of Bellarmino’s words in the bustle of that February morning, had thus been preserved in the Inquisition files, in the most unyielding terms: "Nor might he from then on in any way hold, teach, or defend it by word or in writing.”

A separate communication of possible significance had apparently transpired in private between Cardinal Bellarmino and Galileo that same morning years earlier, regarding the “certain particular” the cardinal had told him, and that Galileo testified he would not now divulge to anyone unless he could whisper it first in “the ear of His Holiness.” Guesses abound as to the content of that secret message, which may—to cite just one possibility—have mentioned Maffeo (then Cardinal) Barberini’s efforts to protect Copernicanism from being branded “heresy.” But the prosecutor did not pursue this line of questioning. And Urban never spoke to Galileo again.

A: I do not recall that this precept was intimated to me any other way than by the voice of Lord Cardinal Bellarmino, and I remember that the injunction was that I might not hold or defend; and there may have been also “nor teach.” I do not remember that there was this phrase “in any way,” but there may have been; in fact I did not give any thought to it or keep it in mind because of my having, a few months later, that affidavit of the said Cardinal Bellarmino of the 26th of May which I have presented, in which is told the order to me not to hold or defend the said opinion. And the other two phrases now notified to me of the said precept, that is “nor teach” and “in any way,” I have not kept in my memory, I think because they are not set forth in the said affidavit on which I relied, and which I have kept as a reminder.

Q: Whether, after the aforesaid injunction was issued to him, he obtained any permission to write the book he identified, which he later sent to the printer.

A: I did not seek permission to write the book, because I did not consider that in writing it I was acting contrary to, far less disobeying, the command not to hold, defend, or teach that opinion, but rather that I was refuting the opinion.

Q: Whether he obtained permission for printing the same book, by whom, and whether for himself or for someone else.

A: To obtain permission to print the above-mentioned book, although I was receiving profitable offers from France, Germany, and Venice, I refused them and spontaneously came to Rome three years ago to place it into the hands of the chief censor, namely the Master of the Sacred Palace, giving him absolute authority to add, delete, and change as he saw fit. After having it examined very diligently by his associate Father Visconti, the said Master of the Sacred Palace reviewed it again himself and licensed it; that is, having approved the book, he gave me permission but ordered to have the book printed in Rome. Since, in view of the approaching summer, I wanted to go home to avoid the danger of getting sick, having been away all of May and June, we agreed that I was to return here the autumn immediately following. While I was in Florence, the plague broke out and commerce was stopped; so, seeing that I could not come to Rome, by correspondence I requested of the same Master of the Sacred Palace permission for the book to be printed in Florence. He communicated to me that he would want to review my original manuscript, and that therefore I should send it to him. Despite having used every possible care and having contacted even the highest secretaries of the Grand Duke and the directors of the postal service, to try to send the said original safely, I received no assurance that this could be done, and it certainly would have been damaged, washed out, or burned, such was the strictness at the borders. I related to the same Father Master this difficulty concerning the shipping of the book, and he ordered me to have the book again very scrupulously reviewed by a person acceptable to him; the person he was pleased to designate was Father Master Giacinto Stefani, a Dominican, professor of Sacred Scripture at the University of Florence, preacher for the Most Serene Highnesses, and consultant to the Holy Office. The book was handed over by me to the Father Inquisitor of Florence and by the Father Inquisitor to the said Father Giacinto Stefani; the latter returned it to the Father Inquisitor, who sent it to Signor Niccolò dell’ Antella, reviewer of books to be printed for the Most Serene Highness of Florence; the printer, named Landini, received it from this Signor Niccolo and, having negotiated with the Father Inquisitor, printed it, observing strictly every order given by the Father Master of the Sacred Palace.


The trial of Galileo

Q: Whether, when he sought permission from the Master of the Sacred Palace to print the said book, he revealed to the same Most Reverend Father Master the injunction previously given to him concerning the above-mentioned directive of the Holy Congregation.

A: I did not happen to discuss that command with the Master of the Sacred Palace when I asked for the imprimatur, for I did not think it necessary to say anything, because I had no doubts about it; for I have neither maintained nor defended in that book the opinion that the Earth moves and that the Sun is stationary but have rather demonstrated the opposite of the Copernican opinion and shown that the arguments of Copernicus are weak and inconclusive.

This last phrase of Galileo’s testimony encapsulates the agony of his position. It would be easy to accuse him of equivocating. Surely by the end of that day’s questioning he appreciated the danger he faced, and may have seen good reason to hedge in self-defense. Ambassador Niccolini had even warned him to be submissive and assume whatever attitude the inquisitors seemed to want of him. But Galileo did not lie under oath. He was a Catholic who had come to believe something Catholics were forbidden to believe. Rather than break with the Church, he had tried to hold— and at the same time not to hold—this problematic hypothesis, this image of the mobile Earth. His comment in the deposition recalls the duality he expressed in his “Reply to Ingoli,” when he described how Italian scientists had come to appreciate all the nuances of Copernicanism before rejecting the theory on religious grounds. That Galileo believed in his own innocence and sincerity is clear from letters he wrote before, during, and long after the trial.

The prosecutors hearing Galileo’s response, however, may well have gasped at it. Why had this case been referred to the Holy Office in the first place, if not because Urban’s hired panel deemed the Dialogue an overenthusiastic defense of Copernicus? The prosecutors could have questioned Galileo closely here on suspicion of deceit. But instead they said nothing. Perhaps they, too, understood the complexity of the situation. Or they took him at his word. Or both.

With this the deposition ended, and he was assigned a certain room in the dormitory of the officials, located in the Palace of the Holy Office, in lieu of prison, with the injunction not to leave it without special permission, under penalty to be decided by the Holy Congregation; and he was ordered to sign below and was sworn to silence.

I, Galileo Galilei, have testified as above.

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