Giordano Bruno, the Librorum Prohibitorum and the Field of Flowers

I generally don’t have heroes. People are too fallible and too human to admire uncritically. Sometimes I make an exception, though. Giordano Bruno is one of those exceptions. Here’s his statue in Campo de’ Fiori, the field of flowers, in Rome:

Rome - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

In the 16th Century, Bruno had radical ideas. He proposed stars were distant suns with their own planets which could harbour life. He insisted that the universe was infinite and had no sun at its centre. Those were dangerous views to express.

The Archbishop of Canterbury of the time, George Abbot, mocked Bruno for supporting “the opinion of Copernicus that the earth did go round, and the heavens did stand still; whereas in truth it was his own head which rather did run round, and his brains did not stand still.” That still sounds like an embarrassingly pathetic attempt at humour and mockery.

Starting in 1593, Bruno was tried for heresy by the Roman Inquisition. He faced charges of denial of several core Catholic doctrines: eternal damnation; the Trinity; the divinity of Christ; the virginity of Mary; and transubstantiation (the idea that the bread and wine in the Catholic Mass literally become the body and blood of Christ). He seems perfectly sensible to me. Every element of religious belief is a nonsense.

It didn’t end well for him. On 20 January 1600, Pope Clement VIII offered no clemency and declared Bruno a heretic. The Inquisition issued a sentence of death. He was gagged, hung upside down and burned at the stake in Campo de’ Fiori, which means ‘Field of Flowers’. His books were banned and placed in the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, the Index of Forbidden Books. I suppose they burned his books too. The Catholic Church only formally abolished the Index in 1966.

This statue of Bruno in Campo de’ Fiori is from 1889 and has the inscription “To Bruno – the century predicted by him – here where the fire burned.” He is stood facing the Vatican.

Throughout the world, the fire still burns as primitive superstitious religious beliefs, banning of music, books or television, the denial of science and the repression of free thought cause death and suffering to millions.

Here’s to the memory of you Bruno.

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