An Order from the

No one knows who searched the archives. But one way or another it was Cardinal Robert Bellarmine who, twelve years after his death and sixteen after their last meeting, had yet again cast a shadow on Galileo's life.

In 1616 there had been strong rumours in Rome that Bellarmine had forced Galileo into a formal renunciation of his belief in the Copernican system. Certainly Galileo got the Cardinal to disavow the fact, but that had been done in a private statement that was not made public.

The archives of the Holy Office were not open to all and sundry. The members of the commission who assessed the Dialogue had no access to it, for example. In any case the whole idea of the commission was that it was to form an opinion of the book before the Inquisition - if required - became involved. Therefore neither Inchofer, nor Scheiner in his shadow, could have been responsible for the archive discovery.

It might, of course, have been an eager official going through the archive with a view to obtaining the best possible foundation for the case against Galileo. But the fact is that the rumours about this mysterious document began to spread before the matter was referred from the ad hoc commission to the Inquisition itself.

There is considerable evidence that the archive search was instituted a lot earlier, by someone who remembered the rumours of Bellarmine's intervention. If a formal document existed, one in which Galileo promised to keep away from the ideas of Copernicus, it would obviously place him in an extremely difficult situation now that he had conspicuously written a book that thoroughly aired the self-same ideas.

Pope Urban VIII - at that time still Maffeo Barberini - was himself in Rome in 1616 and took part in the process as a member of the Congregation. Of course he remembered the talk, even if he did not necessarily believe it. Even if he was not responsible for finding the document, he certainly did nothing to lessen its effect or prevent its being used.

For this sensational discovery was a somewhat dubious document. Naturally it did not come from the hand of Bellarmine, as the Jesuit cardinal had given Galileo a friendly, if unambiguous, warning against presenting Copernicus' ideas as a description of physical reality. The document was not signed, and therefore of highly debatable legal value.

But there was little doubt that the discovery in the archives, if it was accepted in evidence and taken at face value, presaged even greater hardships for Galileo. The document was in fact Cardinal Segizzi's version of the meeting in the Paradise Rooms, Bellarmine's residence, on 26 February 1616. It was pretty well a word for word rendering of the salvo Galileo had got from Segizzi, after Bellarmine's moderate warning had seemingly not sunk in. There it stood clearly in black and white:

"The said Galileo was (...) to relinquish altogether the said opinion that the Sun is the centre of the world and immovable and that the Earth moves; nor further to hold, teach, or defend it in any way whatsoever, verbally or in writing; otherwise proceedings would be taken against him by the Holy Office; which injunction the said Galileo acquiesced in and promised to obey."85

Nec quovis modo teneat, doceat aut defendat.

If forced, Galileo might possibly maintain that he had not "in any way whatsoever" held to Copernicanism, merely presented it. But no reader of the Dialogue would be in any doubt that he had "taught" many fine points that sprang from the heliocentric system and, as for "defending" it, the Salviati character did almost nothing else during its 500 pages.

And what was even worse: if this document were to form the basis, it would not help Galileo one jot to say that he sincerely believed that both the censors and Pope himself had acceded to a "discussion" of the sort he had committed to paper, and that he had conducted an ongoing dialogue with Urban VIII about the problem for years. Because it would then be clear that he should never have been concerning himself with the subject at all!

On 23 September 1632 the Inquisition assembled to begin the process against Galileo. The Pope was present in person, together with eight of the ten cardinals who were the heads of the Holy Office. During the meeting a report was submitted about the unusual circumstances surrounding the approval and printing of the Dialogue, so too was an opinion from the commission which had gone through the book.

The document from 1616 was also presented, without objections. Or rather, the minutes of the Inquisition's meetings do not describe disagreements or dissent, but rumours in Rome immediately afterwards had it that one of the cardinals courageously stood up for Galileo and moved that the matter be dropped. If so, he was heavily out-voted. The meeting ended with Urban VIII giving orders that a letter be sent to the Inquisitor in Florence. He was to visit Galileo at home together with a notary and some witnesses, and convey an order to him: Galileo must present himself at the Holy Office before the end of October.

At the Villa di Gioiello Galileo waited, sleepless and rheumatic, for the Ambassador's work in Rome to yield results. In the meantime he pottered about with the grape harvest and wine making - this house, too, had some farmland, with vines and fruit trees. His old optimism had not deserted him, he hoped that the prohibition of the Dialogue would be rescinded, or at least that he would be instructed about alterations to the text.

Instead he received an unexpected visit. The Holy Office did not waste time once a case was under way. On 1 October the local Inquisitor made his way up to the village from Florence, in company with a notary. He had the order from Rome.

In its formal language the summons to attend the Holy Office in person was read out to Galileo. The old man acknowledged before the Inquisitor and his retinue that he had understood the order and would obey.

Behind his facade he was stunned. Until the very moment he had heard the words the Inquisitor read out, he fully believed that the whole thing was about his book. That was unpleasant enough. But this was something quite different. Now, suddenly, there was talk of his own, frail and aged, person - it was nothing to do with a work on the Index, but a charge at the court of the Inquisition.

There they were not concerned with deviant views of a greater or lesser kind, which might ultimately be adjusted and corrected. The Inquisition dealt with only one crime: heresy.

Galileo was not completely alone with his worries. He had a housekeeper and a servant boy living in his house. He could visit his son Vincenzio, with whom he was now on good terms, and he could walk the short distance to the convent and talk to his wise elder daughter. But none of these could give him advice in this critical situation. The Grand Duke and his court were at Siena, and naturally he wrote there at once. Even so, it was pretty clear that Tuscany had already given him all the official help it was able to, without it having done the least good.

If he were to find anyone to help, it would have to be in Rome. He decided on his old friend, the Pope's nephew, Cardinal Francesco Barberini, who occupied a top position in the Holy Office. Galileo wrote to the Cardinal:

"While I go on pondering to myself the fruits of all my studies (...) those fruits are turned into serious accusations against my reputation by encouraging my enemies to rise up against my friends and sealing their voices not only as to praising me but also as to excusing me, with the allegation that I have finally merited to be cited by the Tribunal of the Holy Office, an action which is not taken except in the case of those who are seriously delinquent."86

This was having such an effect on him, he wrote, that he was unable to sleep. And he listed his many physical ailments. He went on to suggest two possible ways of settling the matter: he could write a detailed account of all his work on the ideas of Copernicus and send it to the Holy Office. Galileo - still not entirely bereft of optimism! - thought this ought to be enough to show that he was innocent.

If a written document was not good enough, his alternative suggestion was that he could make a deposition to one of the ecclesiastical dignitaries in Florence: the Inquisitor, the Papal Nuncio, the Archbishop. He would do everything possible to accommodate such an arrangement.

Naturally Galileo was aware that one did not negotiate with the Inquisition - one simply submitted to it. He therefore rounded off his letter to Cardinal Francesco with the following peroration, which at least showed that he had lost none of his skill with words:

"And finally to conclude, when neither my advanced age nor my many bodily ills, nor my troubled mind, nor the length of a journey made most painful by the current suspicions, are judged by this sacred and high Court to be sufficient excuses for seeking some dispensation or postponement, I will take up the journey, preferring obedience to life itself."87

The letter did no good at all.

The Grand Duke tried as well, with a direct and respectful application to Urban VIII, pointing out Galileo's advanced age. Indefatigable Ambassador Niccolini was mobilised yet again and got an audience. The Pope was as unyielding as before: hopefully God would forgive Galileo, he said, for becoming involved in such an intrigue after he, His Holiness, when a cardinal, had saved him from it.

Precisely what Urban meant by this is impossible to say, but there can be no doubt that he felt injured and offended.

Galileo's deadline was about to expire. October drew to a close, but he did not set off. When the Inquisitor again visited, he said that he wanted to go, but that he was prevented by illness. The Florentine Inquisitor could see that he really was unwell and, on his own initiative, allowed him another month, writing to Rome at the same time: "... and he showed himself ready to come; but then I do not know whether he will carry it out."88

The Holy Office grudgingly approved this deadline. But a message was sent back to Florence saying that when it had expired, Galileo was to set out,

Grand Duchess Christina: pious, powerful and imposing. (© akg-images)

The bronze manifestation of pontifical power. Bernini's baldachin in St. Peter's (1633). (© Corbis)

Baroque elegance, but little of the old Medicean power: Cosimo II with Grand Duchess Maria Maddalena and their son, later to become Ferdinando II. Painting by Justus Sustermans. (© Corbis)

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