The Catholic Church in the seventeenth century was an important aspect of European life. It had the ability to prevent anything that threatened it to never do so again. The Protestant Reformation had caused the Church to become especially fragile in the views that people promoted that may have a negative effect against them. This prompted them to set up the Holy Office, more commonly know as the Inquisition. The Holy Office had a branch in all catholic dominated countries to investigate potentially dangerous teaching. Another reason for the Church's venerability was its struggle with its European budget and influence. Galileo was not only committing blasphemy but irritating the Church by repeating an idea that had already been put forward by another scientist called Copernicus. The Catholic Church stated that Galileo could not be a devoted Catholic and a scientist at the same time.
Galileo's theory was that the Earth revolved around the Sun. He had a reason to believe this was true - he had developed a telescope so that he could look at the stars in more detail, and had conducted experiments to prove his theory. He was sure he was right, and wanted the whole world to know about it.
But there was a problem: the Church. The Catholic Church believed that the Earth did not move and was the centre of the universe. The Church thought of Galileo as a heretic but this did not stop him writing letters to explain his theory. The Inquisition found these letters and it was very angry.
The Pope summoned Galileo to a court hearing. Galileo protested against this stating he was too old and ill to travel to Rome but the Church insisted. The inquisition pledged that they would torture Galileo unless he admitted he was wrong. So Galileo was forced to ``confess'' that it was a mistake and he had made the theory up. He did not want to at first but when it was explained to him that he would be saving his life he quickly agreed to confess.
As Galileo was escorted out of the courtroom, he could not resist muttering under his breath, ``but the Earth does move''. Luckily for him the judge did not hear.
As a punishment for the publication of a book named ``Dialogue on the Great World Systems'' which spoke of Galileo's blasphemous theories, Galileo was now guarded at all times and was not allowed to leave the country. He remained living in his house just outside Florence in this way until he died of ill health in 1642.
Eleanor Colley and Sarah Tanat-Jones
December 9, 1999.