February 17th 1600: Giordano Bruno executed
On this day in 1600, the Italian friar, astronomer and philosopher Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for heresy. His ideas were controversial for his day, but are now hailed as precursory to modern scientific understanding. Bruno proposed the concept of an infinite universe populated by other intelligent life and rejected traditional geocentric astronomy. He agreed with Copernicus that the planets revolve around the Sun, but expanded on this by suggesting that the Sun is just another star. For these unorthodox views (and others beyond astrology) which challenged traditional Christian ideas about the universe, Bruno was found guilty of heresy by the Roman Inquisition and burned at the stake. For his refusal to renounce his beliefs, Giordano Bruno is often remembered as a martyr for free thought.
“Perhaps your fear in passing judgment on me is greater than mine in receiving it”
- Giordano Bruno to the judges upon hearing his death sentence
Being burned at the stake was just the grand finale. After being imprisoned for 7 years for not taking back his statements against the church, Bruno was stripped naked, gagged, tied to a stake, paraded through the streets of Rome with his jaw clamped shut, a spike piercing his tongue, and another stuck through his palate. "His tongue imprisoned because of his wicked words" to ensure he wouldn’t take back what he said.
(Apparently, chatting up the Queen of England was not a good career choice for Bruno, since she was the head of the Protestant Church and he believed that Earth and mankind were not at all unique among the handiwork of the universe.)