May 23, a sunny Sunday in Florence and it's Savonarola's birthday. After a great breakfast of coffee and hot rolls, we headed out to our local Internet point and found ourselves running to a large piazza where a parade was underway. Brightly colored banners, a giant red fleur de lis, one of the symbols of Florence, and trumpeters, drummers, and 'nobility,' all in Renaissance dress, reds, blues, yellows, led the parade to the Ponto Vecchio (old bridge), where rose petals were thrown off the bridge to honor Savonarola.
Serendipity, for yesterday, we had just visited the San Marco Basilica and cloister where Fra Angelico painted his famous murals. Just yesterday, we had stood in Savonarola's old office, study and cell. I saw what was purported to be his bible, a bible from the 14th Century, complete with tiny, very neat marginal notes -- in Latin.
Savonarola, a charismatic preacher, much loved by the people, wanted to end corruption in government. He's famous for his bonfires of the vanities, where even Botticelli threw a few of his paintings. Influential and feared, Savonarola was actually successful in leading the republic, for a time. But support waned (I'm not sure why, no research tools here). The poor guy said he would walk on hot burning coals to prove his integrity, but then he changed his mind. (No kidding!). But it was too late. He was arrested, tried, hung, and burned . . . in the Piazza Signoria. Right where yesterday we saw a Savonarola plaque in his memory. So today, rose petals were thrown to honor his birthday. He remains an enigmatic character, perhaps reflective of the Italian persona. Efforts have been made to canonize him, so far unsuccessful, perhaps because he relied on prophecy a bit much. A mystical, mysterious man. Makes me wonder who else was influenced by Savonarola. Michelangelo? See Botticelli's painting titled Calumny to see his take on the trial of Savonarola.
The murals by Fra Angelico were beautiful, angels with psychodelic rainbow wings, evocative faces, a sense of piety everywhere, the cloister still the same as those old days back in the 15th Century. Sadness mixed with beauty. Happy Birthday, Savonarola!
Hello from Florence. Just two more days here -- and six churches to go.
Be well. When you see roses, think of Savonarola.