I was in Florence on the anniversary of Savonarola’s execution. On 23 May 1498 the Dominican friar and two of his fellow monks, Fra Domenico and Fra Silvestro Maruffi, were hanged and burned for heresy in the Piazza della Signoria. Savonarola had been an outspoken critic of the papacy and had exhausted the patience of Pope Alexander VI. Although he had held a great deal of power in Florence, the tide had turned and the people were growing tired of the austerity he demanded, though many of his followers remained loyal even after what they saw as his martyrdom.
Although he’s never been the focus of my work, he was an important figure in Florence during the period I study. A couple of years ago we took a trip to his home town of Ferrara. The highlight of Ferrara for me was Lucrezia Borgia’s grave, but the statue of the “little friar” is a major feature of the town centre. This year I also paid a visit to San Marco, the convent he lived in in Florence. It’s now partly a gallery of Renaissance art but you can visit the monks’ cells, including Savonarola’s where some of his relics are on display (a belt, rosary and miscellaneous bits of clothing which he may or may not have worn).
Now, it seems, Florentines have had a bit of a change of heart. There is a bit of a performance, some roses laid and a costumed procession.
I doubt he would have approved of women being part of the procession, though.
It was an interesting event, though I think a lot of the people watching didn’t realise what it was for. In truth, I don’t really know what it was for either. Has Florence changed its mind about him? Five hundred years later, does it matter if it has? If this was just a treat for the tourists, it was only partially successful. People enjoyed the spectacle, but it was brief and it was not clear what it was about. An American lady who had overheard me discussing it with a colleague had to ask me about it.
Still, I’m not complaining. I enjoyed a little diversion from the serious business of history, to some of the more fun side.