Andrew James John Mackenzie
an historiography
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Augmented Reality; the Trial and Execution of Giordano Bruno for iPhone

The challenge for many institutions, centres of education and historians alike has been one of trying to produce material that is both enlightening and engaging enough to suit the general public. Smartphone technology and multimedia applications have allowed for the dissemination of material en masse, making it both informative and fun to connect with. Contrary to its existing theological and evangelical material, the Vatican has made an unprecedented effort to produce a smartphone app which explores the trail of Giordano Bruno and his subsequent execution by burning at the stake more than four hundred years ago. Utilising augmented reality, the Lux In Arcana app allows users to observe the statue of Giordano in a way never seen before. Witness Giordano’s execution on your smartphone as his effigy bursts into a digitally rendered inferno.

In 1593, Giordano Bruno was imprisoned by the Roman Inquisition under claims of heresy. Refusing to submit to Papal authority and renounce his beliefs and works, on 17 February 1600 he was escorted to Campo de’ Fiori in manacles and a mouth restraint, to prevent him spouting any more heretical outbursts. He was stripped naked and burned at the stake. The trial documents, or rather the only remaining summary of the documents, were recently discovered in the Vatican Archives by Cardinal Angelo Mercati in 1940. These same documents will be made available to the public and will be incorporated into the app, including many other differing multimedia items, information regarding the life and views of Giordano and the intriguing pyre-burning augmented reality tool.

Screenshots of the Lux In Arcana app on iPhone®.

With regards to the actual features of the app, released the following press release:

“Thanks to the technological partnership with Accenture, the global management, consulting, technology and outsourcing company, as of February 29th, when the exhibition opens, a sophisticated app that was developed specifically for the Vatican Secret Archives on this occasion will make it possible, for example, to focus your tablet or smartphone on the statue of Giordano Bruno at Campo de’ Fiori and see his pyre burst into flame on your device’s display, to open the documents related to the trial of the Dominican friar and philosopher, and to call up videos with further information on his life and his ideas. The app that Accenture developed also makes it possible to explore all the documents in the exhibition with multimedia in-depth contents, thereby heightening the cultural and emotional experience of the event.”

[The press release can be read in full online: ]

Naturally, there are certain misgivings concerning the release of this app, particularly the gruesome and, somewhat, insensitive nature of the augmented reality feature. According to, the Catholic Church and the Vatican have both expressed sorrow and repentance for the “sad episode” and “atrocious death” of Giordano Bruno. Moreover, on 17 February 2000, four hundred years after Giordano’s death, Cardinal Angelo Sadano released the following statement:

 “It is not our place to express judgments about the conscience of those who were involved in this matter. Objectively, nonetheless, certain aspects of these procedures and in particular their violent result at the hand of civil authority, in this and analogous cases, cannot but constitute a cause for profound regret on the part of the Church.”


It seems surprising, therefore, that the Church would agree to a move which appears to contradict their feelings of sympathy and regret. Regardless of the motivation to include augmented reality in this manner, it certainly adds to the overall appeal of the app. The pyrotechnics and compelling visuals notwithstanding, the actual body of research and material found within Lux In Arcana is truly fascinating to historians, theologians and the general public alike. The documents provide an exciting addition concerning the crimes of heresy and the punishment wrought upon its perpetrators during the Medieval to Early Modern period. Exploring the secret archives of the Vatican has indeed been brought to life.
The Lux In Arcana app by Accenture LLP can be accessed online, through iTunes® and through Google Play® accordingly: / 
Accenture LLP, Lux In Arcana application for iTunes® and Google Play®. Copyright © 2012 Accenture., “The Vatican Secret Archives reveals itself” Copyright © 2012 Zètema Progetto Cultura srl, Archivio Segreto Vaticano and Sovraintendenza Comunale per i Beni Culturali di Roma Capitale. All rights reserved.
Charles Seife, “Vatican Regrets Burning Cosmologist,”, 1 March 2000 Copyright © 2010-2012 American Association for the Advancement of Science. All rights reserved.

All copyrighted material used in this article or cited by this website is the property of their respective owners and in no way accepts any responsibility for an infringement on one of the above.

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