The first one was about hooded cloaks. A year ago, I visited Montségur, a small town in the south of France. I bought a hooded cloak from a medieval accessories shop. It fitted my mood and the ambiance extremely well, and I wore the cloak while visiting the castle. There I did some energy work to heal and honor the souls involved in an event, namely the burning alive of the Cathars of Montségur during the Albigensian Crusade in 1244. The photo I took with my cloak before the medieval castle turned out to be a great expression of my interest in medieval times, France, and spirituality, and it became one of the top-five photos to best summarize my life.
This year, I visited Rome for the first time, but a month before my arrival, I reserved a room online after choosing a central location with basically no knowledge of the city’s layout. My room was in an old building right next to a famous square in the city called Campo de Fiori. It had an outdoor market every day, but I had no information beyond this.
Then came the day itself. The moment I walked into the square, a larger-than-life statue of a man in a hooded cloak caught my eye. He looked very much like me in my photo, and the closer I got, the better I saw the details of the statue. My mood changed instantly from astonishment to a mysterious feeling of respect, love, sympathy, sorrow, and admiration, as well as the joy of reuniting with a comrade after a long time.
The inscription read “Giordano Bruno, 1548-1600.” I had heard the name Bruno before but didn’t know any detail. The more I read about his life, the more I realized that choosing a room on that square was more than just mere coincidence. I actually saluted him silently at least four times per day every day for two weeks. It was an inexplicable experience, a comforting feeling of honoring a master and sage, and it felt like I was doing my duty as a friend.
Looking at his life from where we stand in the 21st century, most of us here reading The Wise magazine would call him a true martyr of wisdom. He was born to a noble family in the kingdom of Naples in 1548. Like many sons of the well-to-do families of the time, he entered the Church to study theology, but he also exceled in philosophy and astronomy and became a Dominican friar. Because he loved to read and deepen his knowledge of faith, he came to Rome to study in the Vatican’s libraries. Ironically, he read a little too much and started questioning the core Catholic doctrines, leading the Church to put him in the spotlight for investigation. He did not yield to the pressure of the Inquisition, however, and he continued lecturing, researching and publishing in the various cities of Europe, most notably in the south of France.
Moving from one city to another to avoid certain incarceration, he was sheltered by fellow researchers, friends, and powerful merchants. One day, he got into an argument with his host, who then gave him up to the Inquisition in revenge. He was offered forgiveness if he renounced his previous ideas, but as you can imagine, he stuck to his beliefs. He was locked in a tower for seven years, during which time he constantly refused mercy in exchange for denying the wisdom he had brought about. Finally, the Pope declared him a heretic, and the Inquisition imposed a death sentence. During the announcement, he faced the judges and read from their souls: “Perhaps you pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it.”
Like the Cathars, who preferred to be burned alive rather than deny their faith, Bruno was also burned alive at the stake, becoming a symbol of free thought and speech.
Some 300 years later, the Church’s hold on the city loosened, and the people of Rome built a statue of Bruno on the exact spot where he was burned alive. Out of respect for him, the square of Campo de Fiori became the only square in Rome to not have a church.
But what did he say to upset the Church so much? Well, he was among the first philosophers/astronomers to challenge the Aristotelian geocentric view of the universe, which the Church had adopted. It claimed that God resided above a limited universe, watching over the Earth, which was the fixed center of the universe, with the Sun and all the other stars orbiting around it. In contrast, some astronomers like Copernicus, Galilei, Kepler, and Bruno developed a heliocentric view of the universe. They believed that the Earth was not the center of the universe and that it actually orbited around the Sun. What’s more, Bruno proposed there were other suns with planets orbiting around them, possibly with other forms of life. This pantheist view, combined with the belief that the universe was infinite and that all of creation was part of an all-encompassing Oneness, ran contradictory to the medieval Catholic Church’s dogmas. In a time when the powerful had no tolerance for opposing views, Bruno openly declared that God and the universe were not two separate entities but instead two infinite manifestations of the same reality. Back in the time when God was regarded as something as distant from worldly creatures as possible, he said that everything was an image of divine power.
He once said, “Neither do I like to hide the truth I see, nor am I afraid to express it openly. I joined the war between the light and darkness, science and ignorance, everywhere. For this I had difficulties everywhere I went to, and I lived as a target for the anger of the official academics, who were fathers of ignorance, as well as the anger of the thick-headed majority.”
Last but not least, this quote is famously attributed to him, and it clearly shows why the Church disapproved of him: “God uses good people of the world to run his will, while the bad people of the world use God to run their own will.”
There is still so much to read and write about this man who became a Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician, poet, cosmological theorist, memory expert, and Hermetic occultist before his death. To me, he is very familiar, as if we were once fellow researchers in a benevolent occult group, searching for truth together.
Or I might be seeing his reflections in modern times in Nazım Hikmet, Deniz Gezmiş, Aziz Nesin, Ahmet Taner Kışlalı, Uğur Mumcu, and the 35 artists who were burned to death in a hotel because of their faith, as well as everyone else who bravely faced the challenges of darkness for the sake of wisdom, peace, and love.
For whatever reason, his memory feels familiar to me, so I will keep reading about him to further learn his teachings. I don’t need to remember the feeling, because the moment I saw the statue, a piece of me recognized the loving soul of a comrade. It was as if he was waiting among the memories to be seen again.
These days, a market takes place in the Campo de Fiori, which means “Field of Flowers.” Later in the afternoon, the market stalls are packed away and the surrounding cafes become filled with light, music, and joy. People meet and chat under your statue in a civilization that progressed thanks to wise martyrs of free thought like yourself. I am at a restaurant right across from your statue, raising my glass to you. My infinite thanks and regards to your soul, Bruno! Grazie mille!