Virginia Galilei (Suor Maria Celeste) was born in Padua in 1600, the eldest of three children of Galileo Galilei and Marina Gamba; she had a younger sister Livia and a brother Vincenzio. Galileo never married the children’s mother, thus all three were illegitimate. By 1610 Galileo had broken off with Marina and when he left Venice to return to Florence he left Vincenzio in Padua with their mother, but took his daughters with him. Several years later he placed them in the Convent of San Matteo in Arcetri just outside Florence, where Virginia became a novice in 1616, taking the religious name Sister Maria Celeste; her sister joined her the next year. Virginia was deeply fascinated with her father’s discoveries and followed his work, requesting copies of his books as they were published. Furthermore, she helped him by hand copying drafts of his writings. After being condemned by the Roman Inquisition in 1633, Galileo returned to live under house arrest in Arcetri not 300 meters away from his daughters’ convent. Just four months after he arrived there in 1634, Virginia, whose health had been declining, died of dysentery at the age of 33.
There are 124 extant letters written by Virginia to her father, composed between 1623-33. The originals are in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Florence, Mss. Galileiani, parte I, t. XIII
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