Saturday, May 22, 2010

On Pentecost many years ago...

Ettore Ferrari (1848 - 1929)
Statue of Giordano Bruno 1889
Bronze sculpture
Campo de' Fiori, Rome

I think it very doubtful that any Catholic tour of Rome would include a visit to see the statue above in the Campo de`Fiori even although it is quite near the Piazza Navona.

If any tourist does wander into the Square he or she is likely to think that the statue is of some Monk saint associated with the area which now is filled with a market and a great number of Irish pubs.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

Giordano Bruno (1548 – February 17, 1600), born Filippo Bruno, was an Italian Dominican friar.

He was burned at the stake in the Campo dei Fiori (Square of Flowers), in front of the Theatre of Pompey, a rectangular piazza near Piazza Navona in Rome by the authorities on 17th February 1600 after the Roman Inquisition found him guilty of heresy.

The Catholic Encyclopedia (1908) asserts that "Bruno was not condemned for his defence of the Copernican system of astronomy, nor for his doctrine of the plurality of inhabited worlds, but for his theological errors, among which were the following: that Christ was not God but merely an unusually skilful magician, that the Holy Ghost is the soul of the world, that the Devil will be saved, etc."

On the 400th anniversary of Bruno's death, (March 2000), the then Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano declared Bruno's death to be a "sad episode".

Despite his regret, he defended Bruno's persecutors, maintaining that the Inquisitors "had the desire to preserve freedom and promote the common good and did everything possible to save his life" by trying to make him recant and subsequently by appealing the capital punishment with the secular authorities of Rome.

However it was the erection and unveiling of his statue on Pentecost 1889 (June 9th, 1889) in the Campo dei Fiori (above) in Rome which led to a dramatic clash between Church and State in Italy.

It led the then Pope, Pope Leo XIII, to seriously consider moving the seat of the Papacy from Rome.

The feelings which the controversial figure arose in 1889 can be seen from Walter Pater`s essay on Giordano Bruno at (Note. pdf file)

In 1908, in his Roman Holidays and Others , William Dean Howells (1837-1920) wrote of his visit to the statue and square:

"I could not say what suggested so admirable a notion, but it may have been coining by chance one day on the statue of Giordano Bruno, and realizing that it stood in the Campo di Fiori, on the spot where he was burned three hundred years ago for abetting Copernicus in his sacrilegious system of astronomy, and for divers other heresies, as well as the violation of his monastic vows.

I saw it with the thrill which the solemn figure, heavily draped, deeply hooded, must impart as mere mystery, and I made haste to come again in the knowledge of what it was that had moved me so. Naturally I was not moved in the same measure a second time.

It was not that the environment was, to my mind, unworthy the martyr, though I found the market at the foot of the statue given over, not to flowers, as the name of the place might imply, but to such homely fruits of the earth as potatoes, carrots, cabbages, and, above all, onions. There was a placidity in the simple scene that pleased me: I liked the quiet gossiping of the old market-women over their baskets of vegetables; the confidential fashion in which a gentle crone came to my elbow and begged of me in undertone, as if she meant the matter to go no further, was even nattering.

But the solemnity of the face that looked down on the scene was spoiled by the ribbon drawn across it to fasten a wreath on the head, in the effort of some mistaken zealot of free thought to enhance its majesty by decoration. It was the moment when the society calling itself by Giordano Bruno’s name was making an effort for the suppression of ecclesiastical instruction in the public schools; and on the anniversary of his martyrdom his effigy had suffered this unmeant hurt. In all the churches there had been printed appeals to parents against the agnostic attack on the altar and the home, and there had been some of the open tumults which seem in Rome to express every social emotion.

But the clericals had triumphed, and an observer more anxious than I to give a mystical meaning to accident might have interpreted the disfiguring ribbon over Bruno’s bronze lips as a new silencing of the heretic."

It is extremely hard for us now to try to even recall such events or even try to understand how the unveiling of a statue could be regarded in such a light now.

But in certain circles the old feelings still rankle. It seems to the modern mind to epitomise the "battles" between Faith and Reason, Faith and Science, and Religion and Liberty of Thought.

See Hilary Gatti, The State of Giordano Bruno Studies at the End of the Four-Hundredth Centenary of the Philosopher's Death, Renaissance Quarterly, Spring, 2001 which is presently available at here.

But back to Pentecost 1889.

The conflicts surrounding the Giordano Bruno monument in Rome demonstrate the complexity of the culture and political war in Nineteenth century Italy.

Fanaticism and intolerance on the one side, blasphemy and sacrilege on the other, were the slogans flung at the enemy. Manichaean language – the battle of light against darkness – featured in the discourse of the chief spokesmen of both camps

The events of June 1889 show how central the Roman question was to the ideological and political conflict between church and state at that time.

These issues were not to be solved or resolved for many years.

But above all, the matter of the statue and its unveiling was a media spectacle. It was never simply a question of consolidating one’s own viewpoint or of demonstrating the rectitude of one’s allegiances.

Mass communication was the weapon with which one attacked real and imagined enemies. It was part of a larger battle between the protagonists.

In his essay, Roma o morte: culture wars in Italy, Martin Papenheim discusses the unveiling of the statue and the battles surrounding it:

"The history of the Giordano Bruno monument unveiled on the Campo de’ Fiori in Rome on Whit Sunday 1889 exemplifies the complexity of the culture wars in Italy.

In 1884, Leo XIII had once again denounced freemasonry in the encyclical Humanum genus.

In 1885, under the leadership of Adriano Lemmi, the masonic lodges had adopted an emphatically anti-church orientation. In 1887, the mason Francesco Crispi had become the Italian prime minister.

Efforts launched during the same year to effect a rapprochement between church and state had quickly foundered.

Leopoldo Torlonia, the mayor of Rome, was pressured by Crispi to leave office in December 1887 because he had congratulated the pope on behalf of the city of Rome on the occasion of the golden jubilee of his ordination.

The hard-won successes of men like Torlonia in constructing a fragile equilibrium between Catholics and moderate liberals were thus undone.

In policy, too, there were important changes. In 1887, shortly after taking office, Crispi had travelled to Germany in order to meet Bismarck.

In the following year, a military convention was agreed within the framework of the Triple Alliance.

For Pope Leo XIII, this situation appeared suffused with threat.

For some time – at least since the winter of 1880/1, he had been thinking of leaving Rome. The reason lay in his fear of a socialist-republican seizure of power in Italy, an apprehension that was further sharpened by a vociferous campaign to extend the franchise. Leo XIII feared that the consequence of franchise reform would be a victory for the radical secularisers and the end of the monarchy in Italy.

As a result, the Congregation for Extraordinary Affairs, a kind of subcommittee responsible to the cardinal state secretary and the pope for the political concerns of the Holy See, had been more or less permanently occupied since February 1881 with developing plans for a possible departure of the pope from Rome. Evacuation plans and emergency regulations were drawn up for the government of the Catholic church.

The consolidation of Italy’s international position and the tense relationship between state and church during 1887 further intensified the climate of fear in the Vatican.

The idea of erecting a monument to Giordano Bruno in Rome stemmed from a student group founded in March 1876. Bruno had been burnt at the stake in 1600 on the Campo de’ Fiori on account of his pantheistic philosophical teachings.During the second half of the nineteenth century, masonic and free-thinking circles attempted to establish him as one of the great intellectual figures of the Italian nation, comparable with Voltaire for the French and Goethe for the Germans. But Bruno also stood for the victims of papalism, intolerance and fanaticism.

The Bruno cult was thus intended to furnish an alternative to the ecclesiastical cult of saints. The Bruno cult suffered, however, fromone notable drawback, namely that there appeared no obvious connection between the philosopher from Nola and Italian culture, language or political unification. The relationship between the ‘national Bruno’ and Bruno the critical theologian remained unclear.

Those European intellectuals who supported the plan to erect a monument tended therefore to see it as a demonstration in support of science and freedom of thought, rather than as a symbol of Italian nationhood.

In the words of Ferdinand Gregorovius, a sympathetic German observer:

"The Giordano monument will stand as a warning to future enemies of [freedom of thought and of conscience]: that the hand of the world’s clock can no longer be turned back, that science has become a triumphant force in the world, and that no human institution, however great and strong it may be, can prevail against the tempestuous waves of the new life of the peoples if it eschews the rejuvenating principles of modern society."

The Bruno activists decided to launch an international subscription campaign.

A number of free-thinkers, especially in England, responded with donations. But, generally speaking, the campaign was not a great success.

The more conservatively oriented municipal authorities did not dare to sabotage the monument project openly, but they prevaricated and confined  themselves to a merely symbolic contribution. Concerned not to endanger  the co-existence of the various interest groups and the fabric of compromise that made it possible to govern the city of Rome, the city authorities decided not to place a suitable location at the disposal of the monument committee. Public interest in the proposed monument gradually dwindled.

The death of Pius IX and the accession of the more conciliatory Gioacchino Pecci to the papal throne relegated the Bruno project to the margins.

The second initiative for a Bruno monument stemmed from university  circles. In April 1884, student protests broke out when the director of the University of Naples took part in an academic celebration of the Catholic Associazione Universitaria San Tommaso d’Aquino. A counter-grouping, the Circolo Universitario Giordano Bruno was founded in response. In Rome, too, the university had to be closed on account of student unrest.

By the end of May a committee had been founded in the capital to coordinate the construction of a monument for Giordano Bruno. The freemason Ettore Ferrari was chosen as the artist. The committee succeeded in winning the support of 278 renowned international figures, among them Victor Hugo, Ernest Renan, Ernst Haeckel and Ferdinand Gregorovius. In 1887, the Grande Oriente came out in open support of the campaign.

Yet success continued to elude the committee, partly because of the unhelpful attitude of the municipal authorities. Mayor Torlonia’s opposition to the project brought him into open conflict with Prime Minister Crispi, its foremost political sponsor.

The royal court, moreover, was ill-disposed towards the enterprise. Crispi succeeded nonetheless in forcing the resignation of the mayor on 30 December 1887. The public impact of this d´emarche was all the greater for the fact that it occurred just as pilgrimages organised by Catholic organisations set forth towards Rome in order to celebrate the golden jubilee of the pope’s ordination as a priest, and to demonstrate the solidarity of the masses of the faithful with their pontiff.

Whereas a Roman city council vote in May narrowly failed to support the motion to erect a monument, by December 1888 a majority of the councillors was ready to provide a suitable location.

The unveiling ceremony began on the eve of the feast of Pentecost. At five o’clock in the afternoon, a gathering formed in front of the Palazzo dell’Esposizione, where the former priest Veronese Gaetano Trezze gave a long address on Giordano Bruno. A telegram with greetings from Ernest  Renan was read out. In the evening a conference took place on the subject of Bruno’s scientific works.

The unveiling itself took place on 9 June, WhitSunday.

The Civilt`a Cattolica published a detailed report.

A procession of some six thousand persons, consisting mainly of delegates from the masonic lodges and the Italian communes, but also from student committees and other associations, sporting a total of 1,970 flags and accompanied by the music of ninety-seven bands, set off in the direction of the Campo de’Fiori. After further speeches, the monument was solemnly unveiled.

This was followed by a banquet and a gala celebration. On 10 June there was an excursion to Tivoli and the programme ended with a conference organised by Giovanni Bobbio on the subject of ethics from Dante to Bruno. In its structure, the celebration conformed to established patterns of practice, albeit with a stronger intellectual orientation than most.

Closer analysis of these events reveals that the celebration unfolded within a highly charged political setting. There were intensive security  precautions. The government went to great lengths to prevent any mishaps  during the festival. Troops and police, partly in uniform, partly in plain clothes, were deployed to enforce order. The Vatican was sealed off, a measure that was doubtless intended not only as a security precaution but also as a demonstration of power vis-`a-vis the curia.

Most telling of all, perhaps, was the fact that Prime Minister Crispi, who had earlier been such a prominent and vocal supporter of the project and who had forced the resignation of the conciliatory Roman mayor, chose not to take part in the celebrations. It was as if he now wished to avoid further burdening his relations with the church. The streets were left – with the necessary security measures – to the masses, while the political and intellectual leadership remained in the background: nowhere, for example, is it reported that the freemason grand master Lemmi took part in this celebration which his lodge, the Grande Oriente, had so energetically promoted.

The international intelligentsia was also strikingly reticent. Of the foreign members of the festival committee, none participated personally in the unveiling in Rome. Ferdinand Gregorovius ascribed this to the ‘emphatically anti- Catholic and anti-church character’ of the festival.

Yet it was precisely this aspect of the event that furnished the pope and the curia with the opportunity to draw public attention once more to the plight of the Holy See.

On the day of the sacrilege itself, Leo XIII knelt in prayer and implored God with the words of Jesus on the Cross, ‘non enim sciunt quid faciunt’ (Luke 23: 34), to forgive the blasphemers.

The events of Whit Sunday 1889 intensified Leo XIII’s fear of an occupation of the Vatican. There was even talk of plans to assassinate the Holy Father. Just as in previous years, evacuation plans were developed, along with secret contacts with various European governments. Leo XIII himself continually urged his curial functionaries to busy themselves with preparations for his possible departure and there were detailed plans outlining how the church would be governed in the temporary absence of its pope and how a conclave would be organised, if necessary, outside the city.

This was not merely a phobic over-reaction to events.

It was a cleverly conceived political game. Rumours to the effect that the pope might ultimately leave Rome were deliberately disseminated.

In a speech before the Consistory on 30 June 1889, Leo XIII claimed that the security of his person was under threat; the text of this address was subsequently passed to Civilt`a Cattolica for publication. Crispi is said to have responded with a nonchalant comment to the effect that the pope  could leave the country in safety whenever he wished, but the government  naturally knew that the departure of the pontiff from Rome would be a serious diplomatic setback.

The complexity of the political fabric within which the Bruno festival took place stands in stark contrast to the manichaean simplicity of the propaganda it generated: on Whit Sunday, the feast of the Holy Spirit, enemies of the church had glorified the spirit of science. Just as the protagonists of the project mobilised European intellectuals, above all in university circles, to participate in the unveiling of the monument, so the opponents of the project organised their own adherents.

Civilt`a Cattolica did not scruple to play upon the fears of the populace. Earthquakes and hurricanes, it was said, were ominous signs. A family had been trapped in a landslide near Bergamo after bad weather; a train had been delayed in Valle Seriana on account of a storm; the streets of Novara were flooded and in Nola, the very birthplace of Giordano Bruno, gale-force winds had been reported: were these not signs that Bruno was a bringer of ill luck, a jettatore, as one says in Naples?

For the promoters of the monument, the occasion was a total success.

It has since remained a fixture in the collective memory of Italian freemasonry, whose website today still shows a photograph of the unveiling. In the year 2000, on the occasion of the four-hundredth anniversary of the philosopher’s death, the freemasons organised a chain of memorial events across the country.

Civilt`a Cattolica reported smugly that although there had been verbal attacks on the pope and the church in the streets of Rome on the eve of the unveiling, the Romans as a whole had refrained from joining the procession, preferring to remain passive bystanders. Few flags were to be seen in windows. The Via Nazionale had been left undecorated. Apart from the participants themselves, the streets of Rome were largely empty. The Jesuit journal was full of praise for the ‘popolo Romano’ which had taught the organisers of the event such a hard lesson: the funereal tranquillity of the streets had made it clear that nothing in the world would make the Romans bow down to ‘the fetish’ on the Campo de’ Fiori.

In a speech to the Consistory, the pope lamented bitterly the events in Rome. Bruno – whose name was not explicitly mentioned – had been a heretic and a man of ‘estrema corruzione e malvagit`a’ (a man of extremely corrupt and wicked character). By erecting a monument to him, the freemasons were attempting to transform Rome from the ‘capitale del mondo cattolico’ into a ‘centro d’ogni empiet`a ed’ogni profano costume’ (from the capital of the Catholic world to the centre of every kind of faithlessness and profanity)

The Peruvian ambassador sent the Holy Father a letter in which he expressed his regret at the events in Rome.

From the entire Catholic world, Civilt`a Cattolica reported, telegrams to the pope poured in, expressing support for him and condemning the sacrilege of the monument. In Germany, where the passions of the Kulturkampf had not entirely subsided, the Roman events were a welcome pretext for mobilising the faithful in support of papacy and church.

There were some grotesque episodes:

"In Rosenheim in Bavaria, [Ferdinand Gregorovius reported,] the issue provoked a delightful misunderstanding: the peasants there prayed in their church for Giordano Bruno, whom they took to be a man who had suffered for many centuries in Purgatory and was now to be redeemed from this state by prayer on the orders of the pope." "

(From Martin Papenheim, Roma o morte: culture wars in Italy in CULTURE WARS: Secular–Catholic Conflict in Nineteenth-Century Europe, edited by Christopher Clark and Wolfram Kaiser, Cambridge University Press)

See also: Lars Berggren and Lennart Sj¨ostedt, L’ombra dei grandi. Monumenti e politica monumentale a Roma (1870–1895) (Rome, 1996).