February 17th 1600: Giordano Bruno executed

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Giordano Bruno (1548 – 1600)

 

On this day in 1600, the Italian friar, astronomer and philosopher Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for heresy. His ideas were controversial for his day, but are now hailed as precursory to modern scientific understanding. Bruno proposed the concept of an infinite universe populated by other intelligent life and rejected traditional geocentric astronomy. He agreed with Copernicus that the planets revolve around the Sun, but expanded on this by suggesting that the Sun is just another star. For these unorthodox views (and others beyond astrology) which challenged traditional Christian ideas about the universe, Bruno was found guilty of heresy by the Roman Inquisition and burned at the stake.

 

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Statue of Bruno on the site of his execution in the Campo de’ Fiori in Rome

 

During his seven years on trial, he insisted he could not be charged with heresy as his works were distinctly philosophical rather than theological but this fell on deaf ears. All they wanted was a full retraction of his statements, but Bruno was unwilling to do so. He thus accepted his fate and was burned at the stake in the Campo de’ Fiori in Rome. For his refusal to renounce his beliefs, Giordano Bruno is often remembered as a martyr for free thought. Bruno’s case is particularly lamented as his ideas are now considered groundbreaking and he has become symbolic of the church’s war on scientific progress. In 2000, on the 400th anniversary of his death, the Vatican declared remorse at the incident, calling it a “sad episode” and mourning Bruno’s “atrocious death”.

 

“Perhaps your fear in passing judgment on me is greater than mine in receiving it.”
– Giordano Bruno to the judges upon hearing his death sentence

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