The Statue of Giordano Bruno, meaning the ”black ship of Satan” among flowers, grapes and lettuce

Statue of Giordano Bruno at Campo de’Fiori, Ettore Ferrari

Statue of Giordano Bruno at Campo de’Fiori, Ettore Ferrari

In the evening hours, sitting upon its steps, young people with bottles of beer in hand often stay here until the early morning hours, not always being aware of the fact, that they are doing so in a place where in the year 1600 a stake was placed for a philosopher and scientist who was deemed a heretic - Giordano Bruno. The odium of factiousness was never removed from him. The Church did not rehabilitate him, while his writings all the way until the XX century were found on the list of prohibited books. We may ask ourselves, how is it possible that in the very center of Rome there is a souvenir of a freemason, who  dared to question the basic dogmas of the Church.

Statue of Giordano Bruno at Campo de’Fiori, Ettore Ferrari
Plinth of the statue of Giordano Bruno
Giordano Bruno teaching at Oxford, statue of Giordano Bruno
Giordano Bruno in front of the Sacred Roman Inquisition, statue of Giordano Bruno at Campo de’Fiori
The Burning of Giordano Bruno, statue of Giordano Bruno at Campo de’Fiori
Statue of Giordano Bruno, medallions with the images of J. Wycliffe and J. Hus
Statue of Giordano Bruno, medallions with the images of P. Ramus and L. Vanini
Statue of Giordano Bruno at Campo de'Fiori
Statue of Giordano Bruno
Statue of Giordano Bruno, Ettore Ferrari
Statue of Giordano Bruno, on the plinth, scene showing the philosopher in front of the Inquisition
Statue of Giordano Bruno, medallion with the image of L. Vanini and a barely visible miniature of M. Luther

In the evening hours, sitting upon its steps, young people with bottles of beer in hand often stay here until the early morning hours, not always being aware of the fact, that they are doing so in a place where in the year 1600 a stake was placed for a philosopher and scientist who was deemed a heretic - Giordano Bruno. The odium of factiousness was never removed from him. The Church did not rehabilitate him, while his writings all the way until the XX century were found on the list of prohibited books. We may ask ourselves, how is it possible that in the very center of Rome there is a souvenir of a freemason, who  dared to question the basic dogmas of the Church.

By the sentence of the tribunal of the Inquisition and the permission of the then pope, Clement VIII, after eight years of imprisonment, a man was burned at the stake, for refusing   to reject his own views and convictions. A lot of time had to pass before Giordano Bruno’s input into the development of science was acknowledged, however it was not the passage of time that proved to be the reason for erection of a monument in his honor – it was most of all contributed to by his uncompromising, independent worldview and utter criticism of the then Church and its representatives. For the anticlerical communities, which were common in the second half of the XIX century both in Europe as well as Italy, Bruno became a true martyr of his convictions, unwilling to reject them even in the face of death. 

       

The political situation at this time was extremely tense, especially in the Eternal City. An ever-growing conflict existed between the pope and the authorities of the recently proclaimed Kingdom of Italy. After the departure of the French army, which had protected the pope (since 1849), the armed forces of King Victor Emmanuel II entered the territory of the State of the Church in 1870. In a political sense the pope was removed from power, his state was to a large extent annexed, while shortly after Rome was declared as the capital of united Italy. Pius IX, unwilling to accept such a state of things, as well as the Italian state, refused to maintain any kind of diplomatic relations with the new authorities and declared himself “a prisoner of the Vatican”, and his successors continued to refer to themselves as such until 1929. The founding fathers of united Italy, as well as all those who took part in the annexation of the State of the Church, had an anathema placed upon them, which to a large extent contributed to the secularization of the Italian society. 

Under such circumstances in 1876 and idea surfaced to erect a monument which would unequivocally show the new face of the capital of the new state, open not only to Catholics, but also to freemasons and atheists. Funds were gathered, mainly from anticlerical freemason communities, both in Italy and abroad. Ultimately at the initiative of an organization known as the   Society of Freethinkers of Rome a design of the monument was created, which was to be located in the very place where the philosopher was executed, in the central point of Campo de’ Fiori. This did not come about without any problems – the idea of commemorating Giordano Bruno in the very heart of the Eternal City could not appeal to supporters of the old order. One after another committees sprung up with the aim to put a stop to the idea, especially due to the fact that the initial design of the monument, completed in 1885 by a sculptor from the Italian Freemasonry, Ettore Ferrari, depicted the Dominican dressed in a habit, in a rebellious gesture, raising his heretical texts towards the sky. His figure, directed westward, towards the Vatican and the pope “locked up” within, seemed to be too provocative – such a pose met with heavy criticism of the clerical community and was not accepted by city authorities. Romans were at that time divided between supporters of the monument (bruniani) and its opponents (antibruniani), and at every step there were demonstrations and even street riots and the second design of Ferrari, presented to the city council and ultimately completed, also did not change this. As if Bruno himself was not enough, it also assumed the creation medallions which were to commemorate other enemies of the Church. The monument itself was however, this time less controversial. Bruno was pictured in a pose of a philosopher deep in thought, holding his texts in his right hand, although it is easy to see, that his left hand is clenched into a fist. Nevertheless, the odium of revolutionism was removed, while the reflexive nature of the thinker and author of scientific texts was emphasized. However, this version also did not convince the clerical community, which for the next two years did everything in its power to stop the erection of the monument. It was not until the intervention of the then head of the Italian government, Francesco Crispi, that the conflict was ended – the monument was to be put up even against the will of the then pope, Leo XIII, who threatened to leave Rome, if this enemy of the Church was to be commemorated. This should come as no surprise – the monument was something more than simply honoring a controversial philosopher. It was a real gauntlet thrown down in front of the pope, a tool used to attack the institution which he represented, a visible symbol of the aggressive historical policy of a state which had declared itself secular.

       

However, let us see for ourselves. Bruno was depicted in a standing position, in a long, tightly covering the body habit with a hood, which he had in fact discarded as a  youth. His head is slightly bent, eyes are open, while he himself remains still. The statue made of bronze, stands on a high pedestal, which serves as a kind of an altar. This itself is adorned with three bas-reliefs also made of bronze, depicting important episodes from the life of the heretic: Bruno teaching in Oxford, Bruno in front of the Holy Inquisition, pronouncing the words attributed to him, which were repeated by his admirers with great satisfaction: “Maybe you who condemn me are in greater fear than I who am condemned”, and finally Bruno at the stake among a crowd of people.

The face of the monument was also decorated with a dedicative inscription from an official speech by the philosopher Giovanni Bovio, which had preceded it unveiling: “To Bruno, from the age he predicted, here, where the fire burned”. The pedestal is adorned by the aforementioned medallions (two on either side), with images of freethinkers, mostly killed for expressing views which were in opposition to the doctrine of the Church and proclaimed as heretics (not only by the Roman Catholic Church): Miguel Servetus, Aonio Paleario, Lucilio Vanini, Petrus Ramus. Tommaso Campanella, Paolo Sarpi, Jan Hus, John Wycliffe. It that was not enough, in the medallion commemorating Lucilio Vanini, there is a barely visible image of Martin Luther.

       

The grand unveiling of the monument took place during the anniversary of Bruno’s death in February of 1889, thus at the same time the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the French Revolution, which carried with it the slogans of freedom and anticlericalism, and had a decisive impact on the thinking of Europeans in subsequent centuries. The statue was placed in the very heart of Rome, which  had now for nineteen years been the capital of united Italy. At the same time, at its foot, numerous freethinkers met – socialists, liberals, anarchist, freemasons, and garibaldists – thorn in the side of the pope, in order to honor their precursor, since that is the status – it would seem – that Giordano Bruno had achieved by then. How did the pope react to such a slap in the face? Leo XIII sent a letter to all of the faithful of the Church in which he reminded everyone of the figure of Bruno, writing: “His familiar accomplishments were insincerity, lying and perfect selfishness, intolerance   of acting was insincere, lying and thoroughly self-centered, intolerance of all who disagreed with him, abject meanness and perverted ingenuity in adulation”. Despite such an unequivocal stance, every year on February 17th, accompanied by the sounds of the Italian anthem performed by an orchestra, supporters of Bruno meet at the statue (in quite a small number), in order honor him and commemorate the famous auto-da-fé. This tradition was only halted during the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini. When the Lateran Accords were signed in 1929, which had finally solved the pressing problem of the relations between the Italian state and the pope, the problem of the Dominican from Nola (the birthplace of the philosopher), once again surfaced. For the Church it had always remained an offense and “the black ship of Satan”. As part of developing good relations, Pope Pius XI, in whom Mussolini saw the providential father of Italy, expressed his will to have the pedestal removed and in its stead to erect the Chapel of the Reconciliation of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. The pope desired to rid Rome not only of the statue of Giordano Bruno but also of Giuseppe Garibaldi. And while on the latter issue Mussolini was willing to compromise, he did not allow the statue of Bruno to be moved. In a gesture of good will he did allow for a daily flower and vegetable market to be opened at the Campo de’ Fiori in order to decrease the status of this location and he explicitly forbade the stagings of any celebrations commemorating the thinker. Speaking in front of the Chamber of Deputies, most likely aware of the demonstrations and riots connected with the creation of the monument, he clearly expressed his opinion on the subject of its removal in saying: “I believe that it would be a form of abuse to this philosopher, who if he had erred and continued in his error, had already paid for his mistake”. As a response the Church included Cardinal Roberto Bellarmin among the saints, the very same who had conducted the trial against Bruno, an later also against Galileo.

After the Second World War, the monument had once again become a place of meeting for secular Rome. On the four-hundredth anniversary of the burning of Giordano Bruno, which fell on the Holy Year (2000) declared by Pope John Paul II, the statue was renovated and cleaned. It is no longer a thorn in the side of the popes and the faithful, despite the fact that the philosopher himself still had not been forgiven by Church authorities. Barely visible, from among the parasols covering it, it continues to accompany Romans buying fruits and vegetables here, but it also serves as a place where Indian gadgets and Chinese goods are sold. In the evening its steps serve as a resting place, while the statue itself probably, from time to time, becomes a topic of conversation of those who sit under the open sky in numerous bars and cafes, of the Campo de’ Fiori. Some are moved by his figure lost in thought, while for others who know little of his life, and even less of his radical views, it is simply a mysterious figure from the past.