A brooding statue in Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori virtually came alive this week as secularists, scientists and free thinkers paid homage to a 16th-century heretic burned at the stake.
“[Giordano Bruno], who was always the staunch defender of the freedom of conscience, today remains a strong symbol of freedom of thought,” said Francesco Barbato, a lawmaker from Bruno’s native Nola, near southern Naples.
“The great modernity of Giordano Bruno is his message that you should be allowed to choose your own life,” Barbato said. “I want to remain an idealist like him.”
Two busloads bore several dozen Nola residents to the event to lay a floral wreath among others — many anonymous — adorning the bronze statue in the center of the piazza with the inscription: “To Bruno, from the generation he foresaw, here, where the pyre burned.”
The philosopher was among those who insisted that the Earth revolved around the Sun and that the universe was infinite, both assertions considered heretical because they went against the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church.
He was stripped naked and burned at the stake in Campo de’ Fiori on Feb. 17, 1600, after a lengthy trial by the Roman Inquisition.
This year’s observances held special poignancy for secularists after a high-profile right-to-die case in Italy in which the conservative government of Silvio Berlusconi mounted an 11th-hour campaign to keep a comatose woman alive in defiance of a court order.
“Italy still suffers from the influence of the Vatican,” Barbato said. “A phone call from the Vatican was enough to get the government to intervene in the Eluana affair.”
Barbato was referring to Eluana Englaro, an accident victim who died on Feb. 9 moments after Italian senators began debating legislation aimed at keeping her alive, despite a November high court ruling in favor of her father that ended a 10-year legal battle.
The Roman Catholic Church reacted swiftly to Englaro’s death, saying: “May the Lord welcome her and forgive those who led her there [to her death].”
Recent events such as the Englaro affair have posed new “questions of bioethics, questions concerning the relationship between faith and reason,” said Roberto Alagna, a councillor for Rome’s Lazio region.
“In Italy right now, there are more and more cultural and political clashes,” he said, adding that the Bruno anniversary “comes at a good time.”
The National Association of Free Thought issued a statement saying that Feb. 17 was “a date not to be missed, especially at this moment in history when there are those who are trying to repress basic rights and freedoms.”
Octogenarian Paolino Napolitano, who comes to Rome with his wife every year from Nola to mark the Bruno annivesary, said: “The struggle for reason over faith continues, but quietly.”