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May 24, 2012

GIROLAMO SAVONAROLA: A SAINT, A HERETIC OR A MADMAN?



Many people walk it over, unaware of his presence but just in front the fountain of Nettuno, a few steps far, on the floor there is a round plaque with a commemorative text. That’s exactly the point where in May 23, 1498 Girolamo Savonarola was hanged and burned as a heretic. 

Girolamo Savonarola became a Dominican friar in 1475, he studied theology and, very young, wrote two poems about the moral corruption: De Ruina Mundi (On the Downfall of the World) and De Ruina Ecclesiae (On the Downfall of the Church). 

In Florence (1490) he began to preach passionately about the Last Days and his parish church in San Marco was crowded to overflowing during his celebration of Mass and at his sermons. After Charles VIII of France invaded Florence in 1494, the ruling Medici were overthrown and Savonarola emerged as the new leader of the city, combining in himself the role of leader and priest. He set up the Republic of Florence. 





But his action more spectacular was the bonfire of vanities. During the Mardi Gras Festival, on 7 February 1497, in Piazza della Signoria, a fire was lighted to destroy objects that might tempt people to sin, including vanity items such as mirrors, cosmetics, fine dresses, art works, playing cards, musical instruments. Even the famous painter Botticelli (author of Spring and Birth of Venus in the Uffizi Gallery), after that, assumed an austere style and devoted his work to sacred themes. 

The Florentine Republic at first supported him, but then, for fear of papal interdiction and the decline of prestige of the monk, took away the support. Then the Pope excommunicated him. In 1498 the Pope demand to arrest him, charged with heresy, and a crowd of people went to the Convent of San Marco to keep him and his two closest associates: Fra Domenico da Pescia and Fra Silvestro. After few weeks, after lots of tortures, the three surrendered and sign the confession. In the same place where the Bonfire of Vanities had been lit, the three were hanged from a single cross and burned, as Savonarola did with the vanities and the criminals during his reign.



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