It turns out that we are living above the statue of Giordano Bruno, the patron saint of everyone in Italy who hates the Catholic Church. Bruno was a late-15th-century Dominican friar who got himself excommunicated from the order by claiming, among other things, that Jesus was not divine but merely a gifted magician. According to various online encyclopedias, he then went on to alienate both the Lutheran and the Calvinist churches and to annoy the authorities at Oxford University, where he lived briefly. The monument in our piazza was erected by the leaders of Italian nationalism, on the spot where Bruno was burned at the stake by the Inquisition, on Feb. 17, 1600.
We have arrived on the 400th anniversary of the roasting of Giordano Bruno. For the past few days, everyone in Italy with a beef against the Catholic Church has been using our piazza to express it. Atheists, pantheists, and freethinkers have erected booths. They pass out literature and give microphones to anyone who wishes to speak out against the past evils of the Catholic Church. What’s strange about this, first, is that the higher-ups in the Catholic Church no longer disagree with them. The current pope seems intent, before he dies, on apologizing for every heretic burnt by his predecessors. A few days ago, a cardinal at the Vatican mumbled an apology for murdering Giordano Bruno.
Apparently, that satisfied not one Italian atheist, pantheist, or freethinker. Bruno’s followers, like Bruno himself, seem to be aching for any fight they can find. One night they blare opera until 2 a.m.; the next night they re-enact Bruno’s trial and death, complete with immolation. At all hours they lay flowers and wreaths and handwritten poems. The spirit of all this isn’t much different from the spirit of a religious revival. In the mornings, when we go out for coffee, we find old men kneeling in front of the statue, in prayer.
Just as Italians seem capable of creating Internet businesses that are somehow less efficient than regular old businesses, they have created an anti-religious cult that is more religious than the Catholic Church. What’s the point of being an atheist if you are compelled to come together with a lot of other atheists to chant and holler?