The sin of our first father was the desire for forbidden knowledge. He
enunciated each word carefully, running his tongue wetly over his lips. He
thought he could become like God. And this is your sin also, Fra Giordano
Bruno. You are one of the most gifted young men I have encountered in all
my years at San Domenico Maggiore, but your curiosity and your pride in
your own cleverness prevent you from using your gifts to the glory of the
Church. It is time the Father Inquisitor took the measure of you.
No, Padre, pleaseI have done nothing I protested as he turned to
leave, but just then Montalcino called out from behind me.
Fra Vita! Here is something you should see!
He was shining his torch into the hole of the privy, an expression of
malevolent delight spreading over his thin face.
Vita blanched, but leaned in to see what the Tuscan had uncovered. Apparently
satisfied, he turned to me.
Fra Giordanoreturn to your cell and do not leave until I send you
further instructions. This requires the immediate attention of the Father Inquisitor.
Fra Montalcinoretrieve that book. We will know what heresies
and necromancy our brother studies in here with a devotion I have never
seen him apply to the Holy Scriptures.
Montalcino looked from the abbot to me in horror. I had been in the
privy for so long I had grown used to the stink, but the idea of plunging my
hand into the pool beneath the plank made my stomach rise. I beamed at
I, my lord abbot? he asked, his voice rising.
You, Brotherand be quick about it. Fra Vita pulled his cloak closer
around him against the chill night air.
I can save you the trouble, I said. It is only Erasmuss Commentaries
no dark magic in there.
The works of Erasmus are on the Inquisitions Index of Forbidden
Books, as you well know, Brother Giordano, Vita said grimly. He fixed me
again with those emotionless eyes. But we will see for ourselves. You have
played us for fools too long. It is time the purity of your faith was tested. Fra
Battista! he called to another of the monks bearing torches, who leaned in
attentively. Send word for the Father Inquisitor.
I could have dropped to my knees then and pleaded for clemency, but
there would have been no dignity in begging, and Fra Vita was a man who
liked the order of due process. If he had determined I should face the Father
Inquisitor, perhaps as an example to my brethren, then he would not be
swayed from that course until it had been played out in fulland I feared I
knew what that meant. I pulled my cowl over my head and followed the
abbot and his attendants out, pausing only to cast a last glance at Montalcino
as he rolled up the sleeve of his habit and prepared to fish for my lost
On the bright side, Brother, you are fortunate, I said, with a parting
wink. My shit really does smell sweeter than everyone elses.
He looked up, his mouth twisted with either bitterness or disgust.
See if your wit survives when you have a burning poker in your arsehole,
Bruno, he said, with a marked lack of Christian charity.
Outside in the cloister, the night air of Naples was crisp and I watched
my breath cloud around me, grateful to be out of the confines of the privy.
On all sides the vast stone walls of the monastic buildings rose around me,
the cloister swallowed up in their shadows. The great façade of the basilica
loomed to my left as I walked with leaden steps toward the monks dormitory,
and I craned my head upward to see the stars scattered above it. The
Church taught, after Aristotle, that the stars were fixed in the eighth sphere
beyond the earth, that they were all equidistant and moved together in orbit
about the earth, like the sun and the seven planets in their respective spheres.
Then there were those, like the Pole Copernicus, who dared to imagine the
universe in a different form, with the sun at its centre and an earth
that moved on its own orbit. Beyond this, no one had ventured, not even in
imaginationno one but me, Giordano Bruno the Nolan, and this secret
theory, bolder than anyone had yet dared to formulate, was known to me
alone: that the universe had no fixed centre but was infinite, and each of
those stars I now watched pulsating in the velvet blackness above me was its
own sun, surrounded by its own innumerable worlds, on which, even now,
beings just like me might also be watching the heavens, wondering if anything
existed beyond the limits of their knowledge.
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