Flower stalls, cafes, and throngs of tourists now mill about Italy’s Campo de Fiori, but in the center of the square is a tall plinth topped with the grim brass statue of Giordano Bruno, a 16th century friar and philosopher who was burned at the stake for his forward-thinking.
Bruno was a Dominican friar during in the 1500s whose big ideas about the nature of the universe led to his public execution. Despite his training as a member of the Catholic order, Bruno came to believe that the universe was infinite and that there were multiple important worlds, all of which were equally overseen by an aspect of God. Of course the ruling church of the time branded Bruno a heretic and held a trial that took seven years to complete.
Finally on February 17, 1600 Bruno, who never recanted on his beliefs, was led into the Campo de’ Fiori with a spike thrust through his tongue. At the request of Cardinal Bellarmine he was burned at the stake and his ashes were cast into the nearby river Tiber, creating a controversial proto-martyr for the scientific revolution. Witnesses wrote that before the fire was lit he refused to kiss a crucifix preferring to die a martyr in the hopes that the flames carry his soul into heaven.
In 1889 the current monument to the philosopher was erected, with the robed figure of Bruno facing the Vatican. Church officials rankled at the clear offense, but could not get the statue removed.
While the Vatican has issued apologies for its misguided persecution of early scientific searchers such as Galileo, to this day they have refused to remove Bruno’s label of heretic despite a small amount of public outcry. However the statue that stands tall among the oblivious tourists milling about the Campo de Fiori ensures that Bruno’s tragedy is not forgotten.