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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Mixing religion and politics in the lively Campo de' Fiori

The dark metallic statue of Giordano Bruno, head lowered under his Dominican cloak and hood, has always seemed anomalous in the lively Campo de' Fiori. We force ourselves to think about a heretic burned at the stake in this center of Rome commerce and pleasure, where revelers party until dawn each night.

Bruno was burned alive in this piazza 409 years ago, on February 17, 1600, and the Church thought it had good reason. A defrocked monk, Bruno briefly joined the Calvinists (Protestants!) in Switzerland, and questioned a) Jesus as the Son of God, b) transubstantiation, c) the worship of Mary, and yes, d) all of the above (and more)--at least that's what came out in his trials under the Inquisition. He spent 1592-1600 in Inquisition jails. And, of course, unlike his contemporary, Galileo, he never repented.

Bruno was not only a heretic, but also a man ahead of his time. Before even Galileo, he held the stars were not fixed in the universe; he may have been the first person to theorize infinity. He combined scientific theory with a fascination for magic, making him a tough guy to appreciate in later centuries. [See Ingrid Rowland's new biography: Giordano Bruno: Philosopher/Heretic.] Bruno's work was intellectually revived (having been unknown for centuries) in the 19th century by the anti-Church forces, starting with (as usual) students at the University of Rome. After trying to make him into a figure of resistance to the Church through seminars on his work, the students came up with the notion of a statue. Intellectuals around the world, including George Ibsen and Victor Hugo, supported the cause.

The statue, designed by anti-cleric sculptor Ettore Ferrari, and erected in 1899, was the completion of the Italian conquest of Rome over the Papacy, "at least symbolically," according to historian David Kertzer in his 2006 book, Prisoner of the Vatican: the Popes, the Kings, and Garibaldi's Rebels in the Struggle to Rule Modern Italy (see Chapter 19: "Giordano Bruno's Revenge"). The planning for, and erection of the statue, was intended as a direct confrontation and affront to the Pope. When you're in Campo de' Fiori, imagine a parade of 10,000 people coming towards it, then only those with tickets in the Campo itself, over 130 members of Parliament on the reviewing stand, and the royal family and royal hangers-on not-so-discretely renting window seats in the then-poor apartments overlooking the square. There's still public acknowledgement of Bruno as a standard-bearer of "free thinkers" on February 17 each year.

So when you're throwing down a beer with fellow students at midnight, or having an 8 Euro glass of Fiano at the newest Campo wine bar at 7 p.m., or wrapped in nostalgia as the vendors set up their stands at 6 a.m., take the time to look closely as Bruno's presence. As one of the inscriptions says, "To Bruno - from the Century that he divined, here where he was burned at the stake."

If you're interested in more on the Inquisition tour, stop at the church just behind the Pantheon, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. The monastery (open to visitors) attached to the church is where Galileo stood trial in 1633.


1 comment:

Believer said...

While drinking that beer you must gaze on Giordano's statue and as a few questions. One must ask the question, why after so many years of Giordano Bruno's scientific heresies, philosophizing, womanizing, and contempt for the robes he wore as a Dominican priest, did Pope Clement finally have him burned at the stake. What was it that prevented Clement's predecessor, Sixtus V, a pope notorious for his murdering of close to thirty thousand opponents that he had labelled as brigands from doing so much earlier. And why was it only after Bruno spent two years in Prague, as friend and sometimes confidant of the Emperor Rudolf II, (a man also despised by the Church until they removed him a few years after burning Bruno by forcing him to abdicate and naming his brother as Holy Roman Emperor) that the Church finally felt it had to act? Even then, it was only after eight years of imprisonment that they finally were able to sentence him on a new charge of denying the Trinity. What exactly did he confess to that they felt it necessary to extinguish his brilliance? History is not without its sources that escape the book burnings and bannings in spite of the Church being very thorough in its eradication programs. Many of the clues as to what Giordano Bruno did during those two years in Prague that finally sealed his fate can be read in the book Shadows of Trinity released by Eloquent Books. Bruno was a complex and complicated man, who took a path which led him to his own personal salvation. What he learned about the Trinity in Prague sealed his fate. The book is available at the publisher's website or from Amazon Books and Barnes and Noble. A great read that helps you not only understand the man, but the reason the Church feared him most of all and led to his final comment to them when he asked, “I believe you fear me more than I could ever fear this sentence?”
So raise a mug of beer and salute the one man that instilled so much fear amongst the Holy See that they were compelled to burn him before he tore their house down.