Honors in Rome - Summer 2005
I. An Introduction to Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei
The heliocentric model
When Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei dared to believe that the universe was heliocentric, the boundaries that they crossed lead to life-changing conflicts with the Catholic Church. In the heliocentric conception of the universe, Earth rotated on its axis once every day and orbited around the sun every year. This was a radical change from the geocentric model, in which Earth was the static center of the universe around which the sun, stars, and moon revolved. The heliocentric model not only conflicted with religion at the time of Galileo and Bruno, it also disagreed with the current understanding of physics and threatened to destroy the hierarchy that put the Church in a position of power second only to God.
Aristotle’s “Physica” and “De Coelo” were translated from Arabic to Latin in the twelfth century, bringing them, and their science, into the inheritance of Western culture. Soon after, St. Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus adapted Aristotle’s geocentric conception of the universe to the demands of Christian dogma, effectively cementing it to the accepted religion of the West. In 1543 Copernicus reintroduced heliocentric ideas to Western thought and added mathematical analysis in his book “De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium.” Though Copnernicus himself did not take his new findings as proof that Earth moved, his book opened the door to new questions about the structure of the universe. Meanwhile, the Council of Trent, which convened from 1545 to 1563, worked to reinstate the importance of tradition to the Catholic faith. The ecclesiastical authorities decided that it should be forbidden to interpret scripture against the unified opinion of the fathers of the Church. Scripture was infallible and generally believed to describe Aristotle’s geocentric universe. It was only a matter of time before the traditional concepts accepted by the Church and the fresh ideas of a budding new age of science came face to face in conflict. Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei have been set down in history as casualties of this conflict.
Filippo Bruno was born in 1548 to a father who was a minor military officer and a mother of German ancestry. A native of Nola, he was sent to the University of Naples to study literature, logic, and dialectic when he was fourteen. At the age of seventeen, he formally entered the Dominican convent of San Domenico Maggiore in Naples and was assigned the religious name ‘Giordano’ in honor of the Dominican Master of Metaphysics, Giordano Crispo. Having already been formed intellectually at the University, Giordano Bruno’s decision to join so strict a religious order at such a late age was probably influenced by economical pressures and the educational opportunities offered by the Dominicans.
By the age of eighteen, Bruno had acquired such a reputation for his techniques in memory that he was summoned to Rome for a while by Pope Pius V to instruct the powerful leader in mnemotechnics, the art of memory. Eventually he returned to his home convent and was ordained a priest at the age of 24. However, in 1576 he learned of plans to bring him before the Inquisition in Naples, so he fled for Rome. A total of 130 charges ranging from the possession of forbidden books to the expression of Arian tendencies were drawn up against him. Arianism was a dangerous heresy that denied the divinity of Christ. He was allowed to stay with the Dominicans in the convent of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, but his philosophical ideals soon made him unwelcome. Bruno quickly embarked from the convent for fifteen years of wandering and prolific intellectual production before his arrest in 1591 by the Inquisition.
Though forced to move often because of his penchant for creating controversy, Bruno’s reputation was widespread, especially in the highest ranks of society. Many powerful people were interested in learning his mnemotechnic secrets and sought his company. Over the course of his wandering years, Bruno taught school in Noli, Italy, registered at the University of Geneva but got in trouble for criticizing the Chair of Philosophy, and lectured on Philosophy and Astronomy in Toulouse, France. He was also invited to the court of King Henry III while in Paris, debated with experts at Oxford in London, and lectured on Aristotle at the University of Wittenberg, Germany. Though he was received by Emperor Rudolf II in Prague and pleased him with his works, Bruno was effectively expelled from the city limits in Frankfurt. He also published many lectures, dialogues, and poems on morals, mnemotechnics, philosophy, and physics. Mnemotechnics was his most profitable subject because during the Renaissance memory was seen as one of the most powerful tools for accessing the mysteries of nature. Unfortunately, his popular talent for memory was also responsible for his ultimate arrest in 1592 by the order of one of his benefactors, the Venetian nobleman Giovanni Mocenigo. Apparently, Mocenigo and Bruno had a disagreement and the patron was afraid that his scholar would leave for Germany and reveal his magical techniques to someone else. In the grueling eight-year trial that followed, Bruno was prosecuted for far more than his Copernican beliefs.
Galileo was far from Rome when Bruno’s trial concluded, but the events that led up to his own conflict with the Church were already in motion. Born on 15 February 1564, Galileo Galilei was named after the older brother of his great-grandfather. Though the Galilei family was well educated and proud to be descended from a noble family, they were not very rich. Galileo’s father was a distinguished lute player and musical theorist, so all of his children received musical instruction. Galileo himself became a good organist and an outstanding lute player and continued to play his whole life. He was sent to the Benedictine school of Vallombrosa at the age of ten and enrolled in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Pisa in September 1581, but left after three years without a degree, which was not an uncommon practice at the time. He soon learned that his primary interest was not medicine but mathematics, though he also had considerable skill as an artist and would have chosen to become a painter if circumstances had allowed.
On Galileo’s first trip to Rome in the fall of 1587 he was a young mathematician in search of recommendations that would help him get his first job. He met with and gained the support of Christopher Clavius, the celebrated professor of mathematics at the Jesuit’s main institution of higher learning, the Roman College. In Italy at the time of the Counter Reformation it was wise to gain ecclesiastical support, and Galileo needed powerful friends if he was going to fill a vacant teaching position at a good university. With the support of Clavius and other mathematicians that were impressed with his work, Galileo was able to get a teaching position first at the University of Pisa from 1589 to 1592 and then at the University of Padua until 1610. He studied the centers of gravity of solids and built an ingenious precision balance, but his most important discoveries came after he improved the telescope and turned it towards the sky. His astronomical studies amazed the grand duke of Tuscany so much that he made him his official mathematician and philosopher in 1610.
Galileo saw many new phenomena in the sky that convinced him that the Copernican system of the universe was correct. He rushed to publish his discoveries and before long a lively debate sprung up over the reliability of his new instrument of observation. The philosopher Ludovico delle Colombe wrote a manuscript treatise that argued against the idea of Earth’s rotation and made the first claim that it would contradict the infallible words of the Bible. In March of 1611, Galileo, now a famous professor, set out for Rome to convince people of his techniques and publicize his discoveries. This first trip was wildly successful, winning him an audience with Pope Paul V, induction into the Lyncean Academy, and the equivalent of a modern honorary doctorate at the Roman College. However, it was only a matter of time before the fact that his science appeared to contradict the Bible put him in conflict with the Church.
II. Bruno’s Philosophy and Trial
Disdainful of mathematics, Bruno was much more of a philosopher than a scientist. He felt that a physicist’s field of study was the tangible universe, so he challenged any line of thought that utilized nonphysical elements and avoided what he considered the juvenile exercise of calculation. To him, computational astronomy missed the true significance of the sky.
Bruno was originally arrested and interrogated in Venice, but the central office of the Inquisition in Rome thought his accusations were of such a nature that they wanted to handle the case themselves. Normally, because of the independence of the Republic of Venice, such a request would have been denied, but since Bruno was not a Venetian citizen and the Roman Inquisition had already started proceedings against him when he fled in 1576, he did not escape so easily. In the fall of 1593, after he had been transferred to Rome, interrogations of Bruno’s fellow prisoners lead to another long list of accusations that was added to the original ones made by Mocenigo, his enraged ex-benefactor. Bruno denied all of the charges, except for those dealing with philosophical doctrines of the universe and the soul.
In a review of the case in 1595 the Inquisition decided to order a formal censure of all of Bruno’s available writings. This was a very difficult task because of the sheer number of books that Bruno had written and their relative scarcity. The Inquisition was never able to obtain more than about half a dozen of his books and didn’t complete the censures until 1597. After a preliminary interrogation, Bruno was allowed to see the censures and reply to them. In 1598 a summary of the proceedings was compiled because the full notes on the trial had reached an unmanageable 600 pages.
At this point interrogation under torture was considered because of the legal weakness of the case and the apparent dangerousness of the subject. However, in the end a more humane strategy was decided on thanks to the suggestion of Robert Bellarmine, an Inquisition consultant that later became a Cardinal and played an important role in Galileo’s trial. Bruno was presented with a short list of some of his unquestionably heretical theses and asked to reflect on them and declare himself ready to abjure them. They hoped to convict him on the strongest charges and end the trial if he cooperated. If things did not go according to plan, they would resort to torture.
The eight theses that made it onto the list are not known for certain, but they probably corresponded to some of the erroneous theses found in Bruno’s books and a few dealing with the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and incarnation. His heretical theses from his books included the convictions that the universe is spatially infinite, there is an infinite plurality of worlds similar to ours, substance can neither be created nor destroyed, the Earth and the stars are animate (possess rational souls), the Holy Spirit is the soul of the universe, the human soul is to the body like a pilot to a ship, there is evidence that there were humans before Adam and Eve, and, of course, the Earth moves according to the Copernican theories. Some of the charges that were brought against him by the testimony of the witnesses included speaking ill of Moses, disapproving of praying to the saints, having a habit of uttering blasphemies, maintaining that Jesus had sinned, denying that three kings paid homage to baby Jesus, practicing magical arts, denying the virginity of Mary, and believing in the transmigration of human souls into animals. Obviously, he was not in trouble merely for supporting Copernicanism.
In January of 1599 Bruno appeared to submit to the requests of the Inquisition when he declared that if they found these eight theses heretical, he would retract them. Three officials were sent to Bruno and told him that if he abjured the theses he would only have to do some penance. Bruno continued to cooperate and wrote a retraction for all of the theses, except two that he wanted to explain in person. The Pope ordered that he retract his remaining heretical opinions and that the records be searched for more. Bruno said he was ready, but sent a note to the Pope defending his opinions and betraying his previous cooperative statements. He was given a 40-day ultimatum to repent his heretical ideas or be executed.
When the time came to repent, Bruno couldn’t deny the philosophical positions that he truly felt were correct. Despite all the best efforts of the Inquisition to try and persuade him to change his mind, Bruno refused to repent. He was therefore sentenced to death, condemned as an unrepentant, obstinate and treacherous heretic, and declared guilty of all of the accusations. The Inquisition was of the opinion that his refusal to repent made him guilty of all charges, with or without adequate proof.
On February 17, 1600, Bruno’s tongue was tied with a gag and he was led to the Campo de’ Fiori by the Companions of St. John the Beheaded, a religious order that devoted itself to escorting the condemned to their appointed place of execution. In the center of the piazza, in front of a crowd of witnesses, Bruno was stripped naked and tied to a pole on top of a pyre of wood. The Companions offered him a crucifix in one last attempt to get him to repent, but he turned away from it. So Bruno was burned alive as a heretic. His books, the physical embodiment of the very thoughts for which he died, were burned in St. Peter’s square.
III. Galileo’s Life and Science
To understand the issues behind Galileo’s conflict with the Church, it is important to grasp the state of science in his time. Advocating for a heliocentric arrangement of the universe crossed not only theological boundaries, but astronomical, physical, and epistemological ones as well. Copernicus showed through reason and mathematics that a heliocentric universe explained more simply and more coherently the known motion of the planets and the stars than a geocentric one. In the heliocentric model, there are thousands fewer moving parts because the stars are stationary while only the Earth and other planets rotate. The motion of the planets is also a lot simpler because they only rotate in one direction and do not need epicycles to explain why they sometimes move backwards. However, the elegance and simplicity of a model doesn’t necessarily guarantee that it is correct. Since people could feel that the earth was solid and stationary, it seemed absurd to think that the Earth in fact moved.
When Galileo was a young professor, there were many good astronomical arguments against the heliocentric model. The earth-heaven dichotomy argument stated that if Copnericus’s model were correct, the planets should be like the Earth. It was widely believed that the heavenly bodies were weightless, luminous, and changeless, so it seemed impossible to say that they were similar to the Earth in any way. The planet Venus presented another problem. Since this planet would be between the sun and the Earth, it should have phases like the moon, but none were visible to the naked eye. Additionally, Mars, which would be the fourth planet from the sun, should change in size and intensity as it moved from the same to the opposite side of the sun from the Earth. Some variation was detectable, but it wasn’t enough for how far the planet should move according to Copernicus.
Other objections came from the accepted theories of relative motion. Since objects fell vertically, rather than to the side, it was reasoned that the Earth could not be moving underneath them while they were traveling through the air. Similarly, projectiles flew the same distance when launched with equal force whether they were directed towards the east or the west, so presumably the earth couldn’t have any longitudinal velocity. These two arguments can easily be refuted by a basic understanding of the principle of superposition or the conservation of momentum, but these theories of mechanics had not been formed yet. Also, an erroneous understanding of centrifugal force convinced people that if the Earth were rotating, everything on it should fly off and the earth itself should begin to deteriorate. Finally, physics at the time postulated that there were five different natural elements, and that each of them had one of three possible natural motions. Water and earth moved directly towards the center of the universe, making the Earth the very core of the cosmos. Aether, the element of the heavenly bodies, had eternal circular motion around the center of all creation. Additionally, air and water were thought to have a natural motion away from this center. As long as this theory of natural motion was considered reality it would be impossible for the earth to be anything but the stationary center of the universe.
With the telescope, Galileo was able to disprove many of the astronomical arguments against Copernicanism. He saw that the Moon was covered in craters and mountains that appeared to be made of the same rough, non-luminous substance as mountains on earth. He was the first to observe the moons of Jupiter, which he called Medician Stars in honor of the Medici family, his most powerful patrons. These satellites showed that minor planetary systems were possible. Galileo’s telescope also revealed that Venus does in fact have phases like the moon and that Mars changes in brightness and apparent size by an appropriate amount for the radius of its orbit. In addition, he was able to observe spots on the sun that moved in such a way as to suggest that the sun rotates on its own axis once a month. Though these discoveries are impressive and boosted the evidence for the heliocentric theory considerably, there were still many mechanical concepts that needed to be discovered in order to make it a viable model for reality. Basically, a new physics needed to be established, including superposition, the conservation of momentum, the law of gravitational force, and the law of inertia. Though much of Galileo’s work focused on investigations into the laws of motion and gravity, his most influential findings were not published until the end of his life and they were still only the beginning of the new science that needed to be constructed.
Besides all of the scientific arguments against heliocentrism, Galileo had to face epistemological objections. One issue was whether or not physical truth had to be directly observable or if some phenomenon could occur without detection by the human senses. This lead to the question of whether artificial instruments, like the telescope, were legitimate tools in the search for truth, or if only the human senses should be used. There was also the issue of whether astronomy or physics should take precedence, since the heliocentric theory contradicted the physics of the time. Finally, and most importantly for Galileo’s story, there was the issue of whether or not the Bible should be considered a scientific authority.
In 1613 the Grand Duchess Christina confronted one of Galileo’s students, Benedetto Castelli, on the apparent disagreement between heliocentric theory and the Bible. Galileo approved of Castelli’s answer, but still felt the need to write his student a letter detailing his own arguments on the subject. This letter pointed out that the Bible used figurative language and shouldn't be taken literally in many places. It would certainly be heretical to take the Bible literally when it describes God as having feet and hands or feelings like hate and anger. He also contended that the Bible was only the utmost authority on religious and moral issues and not in science. Finally, Galileo took a passage in Joshua that seemed to indicate that the sun rotated around the earth and proceeded to reinterpret it to show that it would make more sense if the earth rotated about the sun. This last step was perhaps going a bit too far considering the recent decisions of the council of Trent, so it is no surprise that after the letter began circulating widely an objection was soon made. The Dominican Niccolò Lorini filed a written complaint against Galileo with the Inquisition in February 1615. He included what turned out to be a slightly incorrect copy of Galileo’s letter to Castelli as evidence. The investigation of the case found that a correct copy of the letter was not opposed to Catholic doctrine and the hearsay evidence offered by witness testimony was baseless.
Galileo was innocent of heresy for the time being, but the case had interested the Inquisition to the point that they appointed an expert panel to look into the status of Copernicanism. This panel reported in 1616 that it was not only theologically heretical, but also philosophically and scientifically untenable to support heliocentric theory. Though the Inquisition didn’t issue a formal condemnation of the theory, Cardinal Bellarmine, the same man that played a role in Bruno’s fateful trial, was appointed to notify Galileo personally that he was not to defend Copernicanism anymore. Being cautious, Galileo obtained a certificate from Bellarmine that stated that he had neither been tried nor condemned and that he had merely been notified that Copernicanism could not be defended. In addition to silencing Galileo, the Congregation of the Index, which was responsible for censuring books, banned a book that claimed to show that heliocentric theory was compatible with the Bible. They also banned Copernicus’s book, pending correction, and others like it.
After this incident, Galileo carefully put aside his arguments for Copernicanism for quite some time. However, the election of Pope Urban VIII, the former Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, changed matters considerably. The new Pope was an admirer of Galileo and had been instrumental in preventing Copernicanism from being formally condemned. Galileo was granted six weekly audiences with Urban VIII when he went to visit the new Pope in Rome in 1624. At these discussions Galileo apparently learned that Urban VIII didn’t think that Copernicanism was heretical, but dangerous and requiring special care. The Pope believed that the heliocentric theory could never be proved absolutely true because the earth’s motion was not directly perceivable and the omnipotence of God made it such that anything humans observed, such as possible evidence of Copernicanism, could be caused by any number of phenomena that humans weren’t aware of.
His conversations with Urban the VIII made Galileo feel confident that if he was careful, he could write about Copernicanism again. Consequently, in 1632 he published “Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems, Ptolemaic and Copernican,” a book with many cautionary prefixes and introductions as well as Urban’s favorite argument about God’s omnipotence stuck in at the end. It was written in the style of a dialogue between three people, one for each of the two sides and one to mediate, so that it would not appear that he was favoring one side or the other. However, objections were soon raised that he in fact made the arguments for the Copernican system stronger. In addition, a file was found that claimed that Galileo had been given a special injunction by Cardinal Bellarmine that forbade him to speak about Copernicanism at all. This document was unsigned and of questionable legal validity, but suspicions began to arise and Galileo was soon summoned to Rome.
In Rome, Galileo was not imprisoned but allowed to stay in the Tuscan embassy. His certificate from Bellarmine made it clear that he was not guilty of breaking a special injunction, so the Inquisition decided to drop the more serious charge. However, Galileo was still required to plead guilty to inadvertently supporting Copernicanism. In a deposition to that end, Galileo said that, upon rereading his book, he found that it did seem to support Copernicanism more, and that he probably wrote it that way out of a wish to be clever by making the weaker side seem to have stronger arguments. Despite this apology, the Pope was still not satisfied that Galileo had no malicious intentions and ordered that Galileo be examined under the threat of torture. However, Galileo stuck to his word was deemed to be telling the truth.
So on 22 June 1633, Galileo was read his sentence and required to recite a formal abjuration in the convent of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. He was guilty of a middle level of heresy for the beliefs that the earth moves and the Bible is not a scientific authority. His book was banned and he was sentenced to house arrest until his death, which occurred in 1642.
IV. Visual Impact on Rome
Over time, Bruno’s image has developed three main variations: the philosopher,
and the prophet. The first committee for raising a statue of Bruno on the site of his execution was formed in 1876 by some radical students after Rome became incorporated into the kingdom of Italy. This group wanted to erect a statue that commemorated one the many victims of religious fanaticism to show the world that the Papacy was defeated. However, this anticlerical message was not well received by the public or the municipal and political authorities, so the project was dropped. The second committee, formed in 1884, had much more support because of the changing times and was eventually successful at erecting the monument we see today by the Roman sculptor Ettore Farrari in the Campo de’ Fiori.
Farrari was the leader of the left-wing radicals in parliament and a freemason. He visualized Bruno as the prophet of a new religion. For Bruno, astronomy and the art of knowledge were ways of gaining understanding of the true nature of the universe. Since he believed that only through reason could true enlightenment and unity with the Supreme Being be reached, he became a figure of prime interest to religious and quasi-religious groups in the second part of the nineteenth century. These groups were rushing to fill in the religious gap created by the inability of the Catholic Church to adjust to modern times. Bruno became the saint of science to nationalists, rationalists, theosophists, freemasons, and freethinkers alike. In fact, Farrari’s committee portrayed Bruno as a Christ figure in their manifesto, describing how he was sent by God to spread the ‘truth’ in Europe and fulfill his ‘mission’ by dying at the stake in Rome.
Ferrari struggled through many different designs before he arrived at one that met both his standards and those of the city council. Designs for the heretic preaching his sermon, the passive, scholarly monk, and the saint at inner peace were all attempted and set aside as inadequate. Standing with his hands folded in front of him, the statue of Bruno that we see today actually embodies all three of the main variations on the philosopher’s image. The way he holds a book in his arms, with a page marked by one finger, makes him look wise and scholarly. His position above the action of the Campo and his down-turned head make him seem like a prophet watching over all. Finally, the gravity and the mysteriousness of his hooded figure give him an element of the anticlerical as well. A raised hood symbolized sacrifice in ancient Roman times and devotion or worship to the religions of the East, where the freemasons and theosophists found their spiritual inspiration. It also represented disrespect to the Church, since it is customary to remove head coverings when entering the holy Christian places of the West. Though the Vatican used all possible means to oppose the project, there was so much support from unions, clubs, universities, and religious sects all over the world that the statue was able to be unveiled in Rome on July 9, 1889.
The statue is located in the center of the Campo de’ Fiori, in the exact location of Bruno’s execution. At one point the statue was intended for the western part of the campo, from which it would have been looking east, towards the place where he was killed. This location would have commemorated the philosopher’s reaction as he beheld his appointed place of execution after being lead in procession from the prison in Tor di Nona. However, placed as it is in the center of the square, it looks west, towards the Vatican, seeming to admonish the Church for its unjust actions.
The Campo de’ Fiori statue quickly gained international renown. The image of the statue spread to homes, offices, temples, and public buildings in the form of small plaster replicas or busts and statues ordered from Ferrari’s workshop. The success of the statue was due to many factors, including the strong anticlerical leanings of liberals all over the Western world at the time that the statue was erected. It also had strong symbolic meaning since it was placed in the Capitol of Catholicism, right at the scene of a great crime of the Church. Often regarded as the civil, or anticlerical, equivalent to St. Peters, the statue is used to this day as a cult image, attracting occultists, mystics, freethinkers, freemasons, and hardcore anticlericals as well as the usual tourists.
The Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva was begun in about 1285 on the site of a temple erected by Pompey for the Roman goddess Minerva to commemorate Roman victories in Asia. The site was originally the location of a temple to the Egyptian goddess Isis, but she was assimilated into Minerva. Completed in 1370 and given to the Dominicans by the Senate, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is the only Gothic church in Rome. However, the façade, begun in 1453 and restored in the seventeenth century, is plain and in a different style. The monastery where Bruno stayed used to adjoin the church and was at one time the seat of the Dominican Generalate.
The body of St. Catherine of Siena is housed under the high altar. It was brought there in 1451 by St. Antoninus, Archbishop of Florence, but was placed in the Rosary Chapel until Pope Pius IX moved it to the altar in 1855. Additional parts of the church help to contextualize Galileo’s trial in this space. A statue by Michelangelo, entitled “Christ the Redeemer,” resides to the left of the altar. Galileo was born three days after the great artist died.
The right transept houses the chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas, with Fillippino Lippi’s frescoes in the bay. St. Thomas Aquinas was one of the people that incorporated Aristotle’s science into Church doctrine. The sacristy was commissioned in 1637 by Cardinal Antonio Barberini, the nephew of the Pope who was in office when Galileo was tried. The church also houses the tombs of five Popes, including Leo X (d 1521), Clement VI (d 1352), Paul IV (d 1559), Urban VII (d 1590), and Benedict XIII (d 1730).
There are also the graves of sixty Cardinals, including Cardinal Juan Torquemada, who is depicted in the Chapel of our Lady of the Annunciation. This man was the uncle of the infamous Cardinal Thomas de Torquemada, the Inquisitor General that built up the Spanish Inquisition.
Galileo and Bruno were alike in many ways. Both were religious, well educated, and had careers in academia. However, their characters, their approaches to reason, and their successes in the academic world were vastly different. Galileo was talented at pulling strings and getting good recommendations, making him very successful in academia. Bruno, however, had a tendency to upset people and make enemies, so he never remained in one place very long or made many lasting connections. Bruno was a philosopher and Galileo was a scientist, so their reasons for supporting Copernicanism did not agree. Bruno supported the theory because it fit with his existential reflections and his ideas about infinity. Galileo supported it because he had solid scientific results to back it up and had started to realize the modifications to physics that were needed to make his astronomical results agree with the rest of scientific theory.
These differences in the lives of the two men are reflected in the differences between their trials. Bruno was condemned to death for refusing to refute his philosophical theories because of his stubborn nature. He also had made a lot more enemies and had about a hundred more accusations than Galileo. His trial was grueling and prolonged because of the complexity of the case and his philosophies, causing him to suffer for eight years in the Inquisition prisons. Galileo on the other hand had a relatively easy time. He was allowed to stay in the Tuscan embassy or in the private apartments of the Inquisition officers and had a short trial based on only a handful of accusations. He had friends in the Inquisition and was allowed to live, though he was never on good terms with the Church again during his lifetime.
In the end, the outcomes of the two trials really fit the purposes of the men that lived through them. Bruno died dramatically at the stake and so was able to live on as a martyr for free thought. In later years his philosophies became even more popular because he died for them. Alternatively, Galileo used the life that he was granted to continue making scientific discoveries and publish one of his most important books on physics, Discourse on Two New Sciences, in 1638. By consenting to the demands of the Inquisition, no matter how humiliating they may have been, Galileo was able to contribute to the science that would ultimately make the theory he supported victorious.
Another interesting connection between the two trials was the involvement of a common person, Cardinal Bellarmine. This man was only an Inquisition consultant at the time of Bruno’s trial, but by the time he was involved with Galileo he was a very famous and respected theologian. In Bruno’s trial he wisely advocated to resist the urge to automatically resort to torture, showing compassion to the philosopher, but also tact for achieving the ultimate goal of the Inquisition: repentance. When he became famous for his wisdom that prompted such suggestions, he was used in Galileo’s trial as an authoritative figurehead. The different ways that Bellarmine was used in the two trials shows the Inquisition’s understanding of the two men. To get Bruno to confess they knew they needed to coax him and use carefully thought out strategy, whereas with Galileo they knew that he would submit if commanded to by one of his important connections.
The spaces in Rome that commemorate these men also reflect the differences between their trials. Bruno’s statue is central to Campo dei Fiori, making it the hub of action to this center of life and activity. The philosopher’s thesis described an infinite universe, where no linear hierarchies could be formed because there was no top position, so it makes sense that his monument stands in the neutral center of the Campo rather than favoring one of the sides. In an infinite universe, there would be no center. Bruno’s statue gives people a focus, the ideal of standing up for what you believe in, that can center them when they feel insignificant because of his philosophies.
In contrast to the circular feel of the Campo, the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is arranged very hierarchically. The body of St. Catherine serves as the base for the rising hierarchy represented, where the Earth is the center of the universe that God, above, presides over. It makes sense that Galileo’s trial was held here because keeping the Earth at the center of the universe was important to maintaining the Church’s power. If the Earth were just another planet among many, then the hierarchy that placed the Church just under God in authority would be broken. The Church would then be just another governing organization on one planet, rather than the second highest power in the universe. Containing art that tells the stories of the Church and the bodies of influential people, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is a place of preservation, making it the perfect place for tradition to triumph over new ideas.
VI. Personal Observations
When I first arrived in the Campo dei Fiori, I knew that I was in the right place because I recognized the statue of Bruno. As I spent more time in Rome, with most class activities in or around the Rome Center in Palazzo Pio, I began to feel that the Campo was home. Bruno, despite his serious look, became a friendly face. The window of the back room on the third floor became my favorite place to sit in the Rome Center. From there I could watch over the life of the Campo and began to learn its rhythms. Before I got to Rome I didn’t realize how the statue of Bruno watched over the life of the Campo. I didn’t understand the significance of his position before I looked out the window of the third floor and, from behind Bruno’s back, saw the dome of St. Peter’s basilica looming above the roofs of the buildings separating the Campo from the Vatican.
Santa Maria Sopra Minerva was the first church that I entered in Rome. I entered through the front door and at first could only see the scaffolding in the center of the church and the tables selling postcards at the entrance through the darkness. As I walked to the front I gradually took in the high ceilings, covered in stars and heavenly figures over a backdrop of rich, dark blue. The two sitting Pope sculptures looking down from either side of the apse and the statue of St. Catherine lying at rest impressed me right away with the feeling of importance and holiness that they gave to the people they represented. After seeing the elaborate Gothic decorations of the church, I was surprised to find the small back door open, with sunlight pouring through. Walking through the door, I was immediately enchanted by the small street outside and the discrete wooden door leading back into the church. I knew from the first day that I visited the church that I wanted to come in through the back door for my presentation. It felt more natural than the front entrance designed in the 17th century and also more secretive and furtive, fitting for Bruno’s flight and Galileo’s humiliating confession.
Experiencing the sites in Rome for my project made me realize how my path through the spaces influenced my experience of them. An important part of my presentation was how I planned to move the group through the sites. We entered the Campo from the corner that Bruno entered it on his way to execution and wound our way to the back door of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva so that the students didn’t see the front at all before they entered the church. I wanted the way that we moved through the spaces to help place the stories of Galileo and Bruno in their context.
Realizing the importance of how we moved through my sites also helped enhance my understanding of why Bruno and Galileo got into so much trouble with the Church. Their crime was not just believing in a theory that the Church didn’t agree with, it was advocating to rearrange the space of the universe in the minds of the public. Just seeing how the placement of Bruno’s statue in the Campo dei Fiori is influential to our experience of the space made me realize how incredibly significant the placement of the Earth in the universe must be to the human experience. By presuming to make the universe infinite as well, Bruno’s philosophy not only threatened to shatter Church hierarchy, but also to make the Earth just one world out of infinity. Galileo dared to reinterpret the Bible to show that God agreed with him while he tried to move the Earth in the universe space that the Church had so carefully arranged. These trials were not just a matter of moving the Earth, they were also a matter of Church hierarchy, the significance of humanity to the universe, and the power of interpreting the Bible. Only when I realized the power involved in this debate could I truly appreciate Bruno’s legendary last words before the Inquisition. I agree with him when he said, “ Perhaps you, my judges, pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it.”
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