The young scholar clutches the book
to his chest as he works his way through the crowd. Campo dei Fiori is packed; it’s
a jubilee year and Rome teems with pilgrims, beggars and pickpockets. He edges forward,
brushing aside the vendors who tug at his sleeve. Days earlier, a small item in
a local broadsheet caught his eye. A Dominican monk from Nola was to be put to death,
having exhausted the patience and goodwill of the authorities. The scholar sighs.
His heart is heavy at the prospect. It is not yet a century since the death of Leonardo,
but enlightenment has dimmed so much that it seems like eons.
With difficulty, the scholar climbs
scaffolding behind a merchant stall so he can see over the heads of the mob. Yelling
at the far side of the square tells him that Bruno has arrived, having been paraded
naked through the streets of Rome. He is bound with thick rope to the stake while
a local functionary reads the charges. The scholar can only catch fragments: “…impenitent
heretic…failure to recant…persistent follies.”
A soldier drives a nail through
Bruno’s tongue and into his jaw to stop him from speaking. As a token of mercy,
the soldier hangs a bag of gunpowder around his neck to speed the end of his suffering.
Bruno shakes his head as the crucifix is offered to him. Shouts fill the air; lit
torches are raised and then lowered. The scholar cannot bear to watch; he pushes
his way out of the square.