I often think this was the book I was born to write. I felt a bond with the title character, though she was a Catholic nun living in Tuscany in the early sixteenth century, and I was raised Jewish in the Bronx in the mid-twentieth. From my first encounter with Suor Maria Celeste (Virginia Galilei), reading the letter in which she implored her father for help fixing the convent clock, I was enthralled by her prose style, her humor, and her moxie.
The realization that Galileo had fathered two nuns made me question everything I’d been taught about him in school. What if he did everything he did as a believing Catholic? I wondered. Isn’t that a much more nuanced, interesting story? And how would his daughter nuns have reacted to his unorthodox notions about the heavens? To his trial for heresy by the Roman Inquisition?
Finding the answers to those questions occupied me for five very happy years. I made four trips to Italy to read the original handwritten letters, held in Florence, and visit every place that Galileo and his children had lived. See this travel piece I wrote for the Sunday Times
Ironically, Galileo’s definition of the relationship between science and religion dovetails with the Church’s current official stance.
You may also be interested in Letters to Father.