Down with the Priests!

The Statue of Giordano Bruno

One of the barriers to the unification of Italy was the rule of the Catholic Church in central Italy. The Papal States stretched across the peninsula, up to Tuscany and Ferrara, and down almost to Gaeta. Rome was their capital. The Church had ruled this area, on and off and more or less, for a thousand years but would have to abandon it if Italy was ever to be united.

Complicating things further was a sharp disagreement on such questions as the source of political authority and the goals for which it should be used. Did the right to rule come from God or the consent of the governed? Should government enforce duties to God or the rights of individuals? How important is liberty and popular participation in government?

The Risorgimento and the Church were thus at odds over both territory and principles, and the result was a heated battle. We often think of Italy as a Catholic country, but anti-clericalism was an important feature of the Risorgimento.

There is no better place to see evidence of this sharp hostility to the Catholic Church than in Rome’s most militant statue in Rome, that of Giordano Bruno in the Campo de’ Fiori. We will discuss it in our second podcast.

The statue of Giordano Bruno in Campo dei Fiori

The statue of Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake for heresy in 1600 and honored by this statue erected 300 years later, after papal rule had been brought to an end in Rome and all of Italy.

The main argument behind the Bruno statue was that the Church stood in the way of free thought and science, a charge that is leveled by many others as well. And of course Bruno’s fate and the trial of Galileo are two pronounced Roman cases that support it. But the Church’s attitude toward science may be more complicated than it seems, for it has also supported scientific research. Evidence of this may be found in the tomb of Pope Gregory XIII in St. Peter’s Basilica.

A personification of Science

A personification of Science here lifts a veil to reveal a bas-relief that represents Gregory’s reform of the calendar, which was based on new astronomical studies supported by the Church. A personification of Religion also appears on the base of the statue, with no suggestion of any opposition to Science. Pope Gregory XIII died fifteen years before Bruno’s execution, so it appears that in this period, the Church thought it could both promote science, or some science, and also punish heresy.

The Vatican telescope at Castelgandolfo

The Vatican continues to support astronomical research, as you can learn in greater detail here. The photo above is of one of the “pope scopes” in Castelgandolfo, just south of Rome. Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno was then describing his research; now he is the Director of the Observatory.

Mussolini’s Rome