Florence II: Santa Croce & the Piazza della Signoria

I’m back to my fascination with the Catholic (although I’m sure there must be other cultures in the world who do something similar) practice of taking and displaying body parts of  their dead. Relics, the parts are called, and it’s not just saints, I learned in Florence, who are subject to this indignity honor.

Galileo Galilei was a Renaissance scientist and arguably the greatest known mind of his time. He ran afoul of the Catholic Church and its Inquisition more than once, most famously for stating that the universe revolved around the sun and not the earth. Heresy!  That should have gotten him an invitation to be the guest of honor at his own personal barbecue. But for whatever reason, the Inquisition was feeling lenient (because, one theory goes, there were powerful people in the Inquisition who secretly agreed with him) and sentenced him to a life of house arrest, where he continued to churn out his heretical publications.  So when he died, the Pope wouldn’t let him be buried in the nave of the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence with the rest of his family, but relegated him to an obscure corner of the church. It wasn’t until almost 100 years later that his body was moved to the impressive marble monument that he now occupies.

During his move to his more luxurious digs, someone took three of his fingers, a tooth and a vertebra as souvenirs. Really – who does that?!  Lots of people, I’ve been learning on this trip through Italy.  In 2009, the body parts showed up in an auction and the fingers and tooth were acquired by Florence’s Galileo Museum of Science, where they are now on display. The vertebra is at the University of Padua.  So not even being (according to the Catholic Church) quite the opposite of a saint, saved him from fans who wanted parts of him.

The Basilica di Santa Croce is “Florence’s Mausoleum” and keeping Galileo company are many of the city’s late greats.

There’s writer and politician Niccolo Machiavelli, whose 1532 work The Prince advocated a type of politics in which the end justifies any means, no matter how unethical or criminal the means or the end.  No, I’m not going there, because I try to keep these posts apolitical and at about 500 words.

There’s Gioachino Rossini, the 19th century composer most well known for Barber of Seville and, in the States, the theme to the 1940s/50s television show The Lone Ranger (the overture to his opera William Tell).

And of course, there’s Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni. Fun fact: his ego was huge and he was notoriously difficult to work with. He worked mostly alone because, as famous as he was, even in his lifetime, he couldn’t get help to stay. So while many successful Renaissance artists used assistants to execute their designs, Michelangelo’s work is usually all Michelangelo.  His wish was to be buried in Florence so when he died in Rome, his body (unlike Catherine of Siena, his whole body) came back to Florence.

The current Santa Croce was consecrated in 1442 and is decorated with frescos by Giotto and his students. Giotto was not, apparently, difficult to work with.

We were scheduled for an optional tour of the Uffizi so we had to cut our visit to Santa Croce short. No basilica museum, leather school (run by the Franciscans who run Santa Croce) or shop. It’s ironic that the Franciscans, founded by the patron saint of animals, would have a leather school.

The Uffizi is next to the Piazza della Signoria and we paused long enough at the Loggia dei Lanzi, an open air art gallery on one side of the Piazza, to take some photos.  It features significant works of sculpture, such as the Rape of the Sabines by Giambologna and the Medici Lions by Fancelli and Vacca.  Significant, but not significant enough to bring indoors like they did with David, apparently, although the model for the Rape of the Sabines is in the Accademia.

The Piazza is where David #3 is, in front of the Palazzo Vecchio.  This David is the copy that replaced the original when the original was moved to the Accademia. That’s Cosimo de Medici on his horse, by Giambologna, next to the Palazzo.

The circa 1299 Palazzo Vecchio was once the home of the Medici family.  Now it’s a museum and I understand that they give a very cool tour of its secret passages.  It’s also still the town’s city hall.  Can you imagine trying to concentrate on a power point presentation on city infrastructure knowing that the Archbishop of Pisa was once hung out of that office’s window?

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4 Responses to Florence II: Santa Croce & the Piazza della Signoria

  1. cat9984 says:

    Being asked for a selfie pales in comparison with someone wanting one of your fingers. 🙂

  2. I really enjoy reading your travel posts, especially from Italy. So many fascinating stories! Thank you.

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