Biographies & Memoirs


Judgment passed on your book and your person

Despite the hopes of Galileo and his supporters that his affair would end quietly in a private admonition—with his Dialogue merely “suspended until corrected,” as Copernicus’s book had been—the sentence pronounced on Wednesday, June 22, publicly convicted him of heinous crimes.

The cardinal inquisitors and their witnesses gathered that morning in the Dominican convent adjoining the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, in the center of the city, where they typically held their weekly meetings. Up a spiral staircase, into a room with a frescoed ceiling, came Galileo, led before them to hear the results of their deliberations.

We say, pronounce, sentence, and declare that you, Galileo, by reason of the matters which have been detailed in the trial and which you have confessed already, have rendered yourself in the judgment of this Holy Office vehemently suspected of heresy, namely of having held and believed the doctrine which is false and contrary to the Sacred and Divine Scriptures, that the Sun is the center of the world and does not move from east to west and that the Earth moves and is not the center of the world; and that one may hold and defend as probable an opinion after it has been declared and defined contrary to Holy Scripture. Consequently, you have incurred all the censures and penalties enjoined and promulgated by the sacred Canons and all particular and general laws against such delinquents. We are willing to absolve you from them provided that first, with a sincere heart and unfeigned faith, in our presence you abjure, curse and detest the said errors and heresies, and every other error and heresy contrary to the Catholic and Apostolic Church in the manner and form we will prescribe to you.

  Furthermore, so that this grievous and pernicious error and transgression of yours may not go altogether unpunished, and so that you will be more cautious in future, and an example for others to abstain from delinquencies of this sort, we order that the book Dialogue of Galileo Galilei be prohibited by public edict.

  We condemn you to formal imprisonment in this Holy Office at our pleasure. As a salutary penance we impose on you to recite the seven penitential psalms once a week for the next three years. And we reserve to ourselves the power of moderating, commuting, or taking off, the whole or part of the said penalties and penances. This we say, pronounce, sentence, declare, order and reserve by this or any other better manner or form that we reasonably can or shall think of. So we the undersigned Cardinals pronounce.

Even though the opinion of Copernicus had been rescued from the shame of heresy in 1616, Galileo, for his exposition of Copernicus, now stood “vehemently suspected of heresy” himself.

Only seven of the ten inquisitors affixed their signatures to the sentence. Francesco Cardinal Barberini, the strongest advocate for clemency among them, pointedly stayed away from the session and declined to sign. Also absent was Gaspare Cardinal Borgia, who perhaps used this occasion to reproach Pope Urban further for his pro-French behavior in the Thirty Years’ War—or to thank Galileo for the suggestions he once offered the Spanish government on solving the longitude problem by observing the moons of Jupiter. Laudivio Cardinal Zacchia, one of the first cardinals to whom Grand Duke Ferdinando wrote in defense of Galileo, also withheld his signature, for reasons equally unknown. Perhaps he was ill that day and could not attend.

The Holy Tribunal presented Galileo its draft text of an abjuration for him to speak aloud. But in reading it first silently to himself, he discovered two clauses so abhorrent that he could not be convinced, even under the circumstances, to concede them: One suggested he had lapsed in his behavior as a good Catholic, the other that he had acted deceitfully in obtaining the imprimatur for the Dialogue. He had done nothing of the kind, he said, and the officials granted his request to strike these references from the script.

Dressed in the white robe of the penitent, the accused then knelt and abjured as ordered:

I, Galileo, son of the late Vincenzio Galilei, Florentine, aged 70 years, arraigned personally before this tribunal, and kneeling before You, Most Eminent and Reverend Lord Cardinals, Inquisitors-General against heretical depravity throughout the Christian commonwealth, having before my eyes and touching with my hands the Holy Gospels, swear that I have always believed, I believe now, and with God’s help I will in future believe all that is held, preached, and taught by the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. But whereas—after having been admonished by this Holy Office entirely to abandon the false opinion that the Sun is the center of the world and immovable, and that the Earth is not the center of the same and that it moves, and that I must not hold, defend, nor teach in any manner whatever, either orally or in writing, the said false doctrine, and after it had been notified to me that the said doctrine was contrary to Holy Writ—I wrote and caused to be printed a book in which I treat of the already condemned doctrine, and adduce arguments of much efficacy in its favor, without arriving at any solution: I have been judged vehemently suspected of heresy, that is, of having held and believed that the Sun is the center of the world and immovable, and that the Earth is not the center and moves.

  Therefore, wishing to remove from the minds of your Eminences and of all faithful Christians this vehement suspicion justly conceived against me, I abjure with a sincere heart and unfeigned faith, I curse and detest the said errors and heresies, and generally all and every error and sect contrary to the Holy Catholic Church. And I swear that for the future I will never again say nor assert in speaking or writing such things as may bring upon me similar suspicion; and if I know any heretic, or person suspected of heresy, I will denounce him to this Holy Office, or to the Inquisitor or Ordinary of the place where I may be. I also swear and promise to adopt and observe entirely all the penances which have been or may be imposed on me by this Holy Office. And if I contravene any of these said promises, protests, or oaths (which God forbid!), I submit myself to all the pains and penalties imposed and promulgated by the Sacred Canons and other Decrees, general and particular, against such offenders. So help me God and these His Holy Gospels, which I touch with my own hands.

  I, the said Galileo Galilei, have abjured, sworn, promised, and bound myself as above; and in witness of the truth, with my own hand have subscribed the present document of my abjuration, and have recited it word by word in Rome, at the Convent of the Minerva, this 22nd day of June 1633.


Final lines of Galileo’s handwritten confession to the Inquisition

  I, Galileo Galilei, have abjured as above, with my own hand.

It is often said that as Galileo rose from his knees he muttered under his breath “Eppur si muove” (But still it moves). Or he shouted out these words, looking toward the sky and stamping his foot. Either way, for Galileo to voice such undaunted conviction in this hostile encounter would have been beyond foolhardy, not to mention that the comment suggests a defiant feistiness beyond his means to muster then and there. He may have said it weeks or months later, in front of other witnesses, but not on that day. He sustained his condemnation in the Convent of the Minerva as a breach of the promises made him in exchange for his cooperation. For he believed in his own innocence; he had admitted committing a “crime” only because his confession had been part of a deal.

Within days, Cardinal Barberini successfully softened Galileo’s sentence by changing the place of his imprisonment from the dungeons of the Holy Office to the Tuscan embassy in Rome. Then Ambassador Niccolini entreated Pope Urban to pardon Galileo and send him home to Florence. Galileo, he explained to bolster his plea, had agreed to take in his widowed sister-in-law, who was even now preparing to depart from Germany along with her eight children, and had nowhere else to turn.

Urban rejected the idea of the pardon, but he consented to let Galileo leave Rome at last. With Cardinal Barberini’s intervention, Galileo was consigned for the first five months of his prison term to the custody of the archbishop of Siena, who had already offered to send his personal litter to ensure safe, speedy conveyance to his palace.

The Dialogue duly appeared on the next published Index of Prohibited Books, in 1664, where it would remain for nearly two hundred years.


JUST AS SUDDENLY and unexpectedly as word of your new torment reached me, Sire, so intensely did it pierce my soul with pain to hear the judgment that has finally been passed, denouncing your person as harshly as your book. I learned all this by importuning Signor Geri, because, not having any letters from you this week, I could not calm myself, as though I already knew all that had happened.

My dearest lord father, now is the time to avail yourself more than ever of that prudence which the Lord God has granted you, bearing these blows with that strength of spirit which your religion, your profession, and your age require. And since you, by virtue of your vast experience, can lay claim to full cognizance of the fallacy and instability of everything in this miserable world, you must not make too much of these storms, but rather take hope that they will soon subside and transform themselves from troubles into as many satisfactions.

In saying all that I am speaking what my own desires dictate, and also what seems a promise of leniency demonstrated toward you, Sire, by His Holiness, who has destined for your prison a place so delightful, whereby it appears we may anticipate another commutation of your sentence conforming even more closely with all your and our wishes; may it please God to see things turn out that way, if it be for the best. Meanwhile I pray you not to leave me without the consolation of your letters, giving me reports of your condition, physically and especially spiritually: though I conclude my writing here, I never cease to accompany you with my thoughts and prayers, calling on His Divine Majesty to grant you true peace and consolation.


Most affectionate daughter,


Galileo’s humiliation spread outward from Rome as fast as messengers could carry the news. At the pope’s command, and with fanfare, the text of Galileo’s mortifying sentence was posted and read aloud by inquisitors from Padua to Bologna, from Milan to Mantua, from Florence to Naples to Venice and on to France, Flanders, and Switzerland, alerting the professors of philosophy and mathematics at each locale of the outcome of Galileo’s affair. In Florence in particular, instructions called for the condemnation to occasion a plenary session of the Florentine Inquisition, to which as many mathematicians as possible should be invited.

In the summer of 1633, spurred by these events, a lively black market trade sprang up around the banned Dialogue. The price of the book, which had originally sold for half a scudo, rose to four and then to six scudi as priests and professors across the country purchased copies to keep the inquisitors from cornering the market. A Paduan friend of Galileo’s wrote to tell him how the well-known university philosopher Fortunio Liceti had actually surrendered his copy to the authorities, as though this were a most singular aberrant act, and no one else who owned the Dialogue could bear to part with it. As the book grew in esteem among Galileo’s cohorts, it also gained new converts.

Sometime later that July or August, a messenger smuggled a copy of the Dialogue across the Alps, with the help of clandestine agents, to Strasbourg, where the Austrian historian Mathias Berneggar began to prepare a Latin translation that would be ready for general distribution throughout Europe by 1635. In 1661, an English version of the Dialogue appeared, translated by Thomas Salusbury. The prohibition of the book by the Index endured for a long time, but not with a long arm outside Italy.

In 1744, publishers in Padua gained permission to include the Dialogue in a posthumous collection of Galileo’s works, by inserting appropriate qualifying remarks and disclaimers in the text. But this concession did not lead to any rapid relaxation of the ruling against the Dialogue, which remained officially prohibited. On April 16, 1757, when the Congregation of the Index withdrew its general objections against books teaching the Copernican doctrine, it specifically cited the Dialogue as a still-forbidden title. The Dialogue in fact stayed banned for another sixty-five years, until 1822, when the Congregation of the Holy Office decided to allow publication of books on modern astronomy expounding the movement of the Earth. No new Index, however, was issued at the time to reflect this change in attitude. Thus the 1835 edition became the first Index in almost two centuries to drop the listing of the Dialogue of Galileo Galilei.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!