Maria Celeste: The Daughter of Science and Religion




Barry, Katherine

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The illegitimate daughter of famed mathematician Galileo Galilei was Sister Maria Celeste, a nun in the Poor Clares convent in Arcetri, outside of Florence. As a result of her father’s work and her life in the convent, Maria Celeste was uniquely centered between the conflict of science and religion in 17th-century Italy, as demonstrated in the letters she wrote to her father throughout her life. Typically Maria Celeste’s life and letters to her father are used to contextualize Galileo’s life or support an already-existing narrative of Galileo. However the letters Maria Celeste wrote to her father offer insight into the life of a nun in the 17th-century. In this thesis I explore an alternative interpretation of Maria Celeste’s life—one that is not centered on Galileo’s own life. In examining Maria Celeste’s letters as well as secondary sources focusing on women in convents in the early modern period, I strive to understand the experiences of nuns in the 17th-century. Maria Celeste’s experience in the convent demonstrated the changing motivations and the restructuring of the Catholic Church following the Council of Trent. In this thesis I argue that despite her family, Maria Celeste was a relatively ordinary nun. Her relation to Galileo could have drastically affected her experiences in the convent and in the religious vocation; however, she details a life dedicated to prayer, devotion, and love of her vocation.



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