|This statue of Giordano Bruno stands in
the square of that name in the town of his birth,
Nola, near Naples.
became a modern science in the 16th and 17th
centuries, largely through the efforts of Copernicus
and Galileo. It is less remembered than it should be
that the life's work of Nicolas Copernicus, De
Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium Libri,
containing his observations that the Earth and all the
planets revolved around the sun—though formulated
thirty years earlier—was not published until the year
of his death, 1543. Nick had a good head on his
shoulders and that is precisely where he wanted to
keep it. Thus, he knew better than to go rip-snorting
through the streets of Unenlightenment Europe advising
princes of The Church that the Earth wasn't the center
of the universe. Even a century later, a very old,
tired and beat up Galileo, understandably afraid of
the torture that awaited him unless he knuckled under,
recanted his blasphemous confirmation of Copernican
Between Copernicus and Galileo in time, we find the fascinating figure of Giordano Bruno from Nola, near Naples. Unlike Copernicus, Bruno didn't believe in soft-pedaling what he believed to be the truth. He was flamboyant, vain and loud. He was also, most improbably, a monk for eleven years of his young adulthood at the Franciscan monastery in Naples before renouncing his vows in order to set off around Europe as a wandering teacher of philosophy. And unlike Galileo, he not only didn't fear torture and death, but his last words on the subject —literally his last words on the subject, (spoken to his tormentors just after they had sentenced him)— were defiant: "Perhaps you who pronounce my sentence are in greater fear than I who receive it."
Giordano Bruno still
fascinates us today. (Indeed, even James Joyce used to
puzzle his friends by references to "the Nolan," and on
occasion paid homage to this fellow heretic and believer
in the magical power of words by using the pen-name
"Gordon Brown"!) Bruno was caught, so to speak, between
two ages in our civilization. He was a mystic, a devout
man who brought with him from the past a belief in
numerology, astrology and alchemy and even an interest in
the revival of ancient Egyptian magic. He was, however,
also a universal and tolerant man—one who wanted the
universe to make sense, and, in that, he was a forerunner
of the Age of Reason. He was, thus, ill at ease with the
confining theology of his day, which proclaimed the Earth
the center of all things. He believed in an infinite
universe, a literal interpretation of the biblical "worlds
upon worlds," a universe in which nothing is fixed, not
even the stars, and where everything is relative,
including time and motion, a universe in which we are but
a tiny part of the great unknown and in which God becomes
more of a universal mind, a substance inherent in all
things, not a personal, external Prime Mover. Unorthodox
views like this were to put him on a collision course with
In the early 1580s Bruno traveled to England where he lectured at Oxford and met the great men of English letters, perhaps, they say, even Shakespeare. Then, he left England and returned to France, Germany and back to Italy, where he thought he would be able to convince the Inquisition that he was no heretic and that his views were reasonable. He had, after all, time and again as a monk apologized for his doubts and, now, before the Inquisition, offered to defend his views. The Inquisition, of course, was not interested in debate; they wanted penitence, and Bruno would not give it to them. He spent eight years in prison, being "examined and questioned". On February 19, 1600, he was burned at the stake in the Piazza de' Fiori in Rome.
Bruno was no Copernicus or Galileo in the scientific sense. His vision of the cosmos was not based on puzzling over the apparent retrograde orbit of planets or on observations through telescopes. His was more of a philosophical, aesthetic stance. In order to make sense, the universe had to be greater, infinitely greater, than his contemporaries imagined. Or, in his own words (from De la Causa, principio et uno):
|This entire globe, this star, not being subject to death, and dissolution and annihilation being impossible anywhere in Nature, from time to time renews itself by changing and altering all its parts. There is no absolute up or down, as Aristotle taught; no absolute position in space; but the position of a body is relative to that of other bodies. Everywhere there is incessant relative change in position throughout the universe, and the observer is always at the center of things.|
The issue cropped up again later. In 1929, the Fascist state of Italy finally settled the "Roman Question" through the so-called Lateran Accords (from the name of the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano, where the accords were signed). In effect, in exchange for the Church's recognition of the modern state of Italy—with Rome as the capital—Italy recognized the sovereignty of the Holy See in the State of Vatican City and agreed to pay a sum of money to the Holy See for the loss of its property and territory brought about by Italian unification in the previous century. As a little extra, the Vatican tried to get Mussolini to take down the offensive statue and replace it with a chapel to The Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Duce, always a pope-baiter, refused—the statue stayed, but Mussolini did have a fruit market put in the square!
The event, though so distant now as to seem irrelevant, is not. It captured international attention, as, indeed, the figure of Giordano Bruno still fascinates us. From the New York Times of Nov. 5, 1889:
The encyclical letter of his Holiness the Pope, which was read in the Roman Catholic churches of this country, and presumably of all the world, last Sunday...is calculated to give rise to reflections... It is, in fact, a protest against the erection in the city of Rome of a statue to GIORDANO BRUNO. The protest is based, not upon the artistic demerits of the work, in which case it would be highly readable, since an infallible art critic would be an interesting novelty....The Pope regards the erection of a good statue to Bruno as an outrage upon faith and morals and a personal affront to himself... In his capacity of the spiritual father of Christendom the Pope has no more to do with the municipal embellishments of Rome than of New York. If his Holiness were to take a stroll through Central Park... he would see many statues that would give pain to his orthodoxy as well as to his aesthetic sensibilities. The sculptural commemoration of a notorious free thinker like Goethe and of a loose liver like Burns could scarcely meet his infallible views, and yet he would not feel called upon to enter a protest against it and certainly it would not occur to him that it was an insult to himself.
In truth, if no statues are to be put up to persons of "abandoned morals" he would be obliged to object to the commemoration of several of his own predecessors... In truth, the offense of Giordano Bruno was that he made himself unpleasant to the Pope of the period...It is nearly three centuries since the Church imprisoned him and burned him at the stake really for the crime of thinking for himself and publishing his thoughts, for he did not attack the Church except by inference and indirection. The attempt at this day to reopen the judgment of 1600 naturally irritates the Pope and his advisers. But nothing is to be gained for the Papacy by a display of this irritation. On the contrary, the effect of such a display is to confirm in the minds of rational and patriotic Italians the belief that it would be dangerous to intrust the Pope with the least fragment of the temporal power of which he has been deprived, and to assure them that the reinstatement of the Papacy in the city of Rome would revive the conflict between intellectual freedom and ecclesiastical bigotry, to which Bruno was a martyr. In truth, the emancipation of Italy could not be more fitly symbolized than by the image of Giordano Bruno...By the erection of this monument Italy redeems itself from the reproach implied by Swinburne in...[lines]... of his poem upon Bruno:
"Shall we not praise thee though thine own forget"
"A staff for man's free thought to walk alone.
A lamp to lead him far from shrine and throne
On ways untrodden where his fathers trod,
Ere earth's heart withered at a high priest's nod."
The Cicala fort was damaged a number of times by eruptions of Mt. Vesuvius (the worst ones for the citizens of Nola were those of 993, 1036, and 1139). As well, the fort changed hands a few times during that period, passing from the Longobards to the Byzantines to the Normans, and then, in the 13th century, becoming part of the feudal fief of Frederick II. The manor was later contested by a string of feudal lords; among the best-known were Guidone de Vito, Girardo de Villario, Simon de la Forest and various members of the Orsini family. In 1632 the castle was once again badly damaged by yet another eruption of Vesuvius. In 1725 the manor became the property of Ruffo di Bagnara, founder of the Castelcicala family.
The entire history of this area is enriched by the fact that near the castle was a house (of which no trace remains today) that was the birthplace of one remembered as the most important philosopher of our southern lands, Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), "Achademico di nulla achademia, detto il fastidito.”*(see note)
The monastery of the Cappucine Fathers, called the monastery of Santa Croce (Holy Cross) was founded in 1566 on the ruins of an ancient church at the foot of the Cicala hill. Since that time the structure has often been expanded and has acquired a rich library. The church has been embellished through frescoes by Mozzillo and a wooden intarsio altar probably from the Sorrentine School of the 16th century.
Trips to the area are no problem whatsoever. There is a small paved road from the outskirts of Nola (near the Santa Maria della Pietà hospital) and you can drive right up to manor by car. The interior of the castle, itself, is usually closed, but the low outside walls still permit at least some limited access to the grounds.