Giordano Bruno is considered by many to be a martyr for science and by many more to be a martyr for free thought. Bruno was born in the town of Nola, located near Naples, Italy, in 1548. He was an outspoken youth and eventually became an outspoken Dominican monk. During his tenure as a Dominican, it was suggested that he had read some of the "forbidden works" of Desiderius Erasmus, and along with his unorthodox views of Christianity, this prompted the Catholic Church to issue an indictment of heresy against Bruno in 1578. On learning the indictment was imminent, Bruno fled to France, beginning a life as an intellectual nomad.
While it was not uncommon for intellectuals to wander from university center to university center, it was uncommon for them to be forced to move from place to place. Bruno's outspoken critiques and attacks upon orthodox views made him welcome at these university centers only for a short time. He began his wanderings by going to Geneva, followed in turn by France, England, France again, Germany and then Venice. He was a prolific writer while on the road. A list of some of his works follows:
Bruno returned home to Italy in 1591 and stayed in Venice at the insistence of Giovanni Moncenigo, in order to teach some of his "natural magic of memory training." Bruno also could have been homesick, or trying to reach the Vatican in order to win the Pope's support for some of his controversial ideas. Nonetheless, Moncenigo, after not learning anything from Bruno, turned him over to the Venetian Inquisition. Bruno was held for over a year in Venice, and Rome insisted that he be turned over to them, which happened in February, 1593. Bruno was kept in imprisoned for over six years, without any writing materials and without an explanation for the delay in his trial. In January, 1600, he was handed over to the Grand Inquisitor, was convicted, and turned over to the secular authorities who were required to carry out the sentence imposed by the Inquisition..
The decree was that Bruno was " ...to be punished with due chastisement; beseeching you, however as we earnestly beseech you, so to mitigate the severity of your sentence with respect to the body that there be no danger of death or of the shedding of blood...", in other words, Bruno was to be burnt at the stake by the Governor of Rome. The Inquisition commonly handed over it's victims to the secular authorities to handle. On February 17, 1600, Bruno was led to Campo de Fiori, where he was burned at the stake, amongst the crowds visiting Rome for the Jubilee Year.
Bruno and his works were largely ignored until some of the 18th Century Deists started reading his works and making him their champion. In the 19th Century, Italy's freethinkers also adopted Bruno as a martyr to the cause of freethought. To this day, Italy's largest freethought organization is named after Bruno: Associazione Nazionale del Libero Pensiero "Giordano Bruno". A statue of Bruno was placed at the spot of his death and dedicated on June 9, 1889, and every February 17 since then, freethinkers have gathered in Campo de Fiori to celebrate Bruno's life. This year, for the 400th anniversary of Bruno's martyrdom, the Campo de Fiori was the venue for a three day Bruno festival.
There are no clear indications as to the exact reason why Bruno was killed. Some scholars have attributed it to his knowledge of magic and Hermetic philosophy, others have attributed it to his belief in the Copernican system, but in The Catholic Encyclopedia, it is stated that it was for his errors in theology, which included the idea that Christ was a master magician and the it was Bruno's belief that Transubstantiation is not possible. After hearing the judgment of the Church, Bruno is quoted as saying "Perchance your fear in passing judgment on me is greater than mine in receiving it."
"Time is the father of truth, its mother is our mind"
Giordano Bruno, The Ash Wednesday Supper
Catholic Encyclopedia Article on Giordano Bruno
A forthcoming book on reincarnation and Bruno's philosophy
John Kessler article on Bruno
An article and pictures about Campo de Fiori and the Bruno Statue
A link to the Italian freethought organization mentioned above
Director, Center for Inquiry Libraries