Every May 23rd, Florence celebrates “La Fiorita” , a flower tribute to commemorate an event that occurred in 1498: the death of Girolamo Savonarola, a monk that upset the city after the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent Medici, spreading terror and “condemning” the Florentines for their luxurious tastes, for their worship of other religions, and for their pagan art.
But: who was this figure, and what exactly happened?
Savonarola was born in Ferrara on September 21, 1452, from a family of noble origins, and still at a young age, he was destined to the medical studies, that he soon left to become a Dominican friar.
He arrived in Florence in 1482, called by Lorenzo the Magnificent himself, who was attracted by his fame as a great speaker, advised also by his men, and the monk entered the Convent of San Marco. He conquered the Florentines with his passionate sermons, and soon he gained an important group of followers.
These were organized in a penitential sect called of the “Piagnoni” (“those who cry”), so called for the tears shed during Savonarola’s sermons, and also linked to the name of the bell in the Convent of San Marco, the “Piagnona”: this bell will ring continuously, asking for help, on the day the “Arrabbiati” assault the convent to arrest the friar.
Strict punisher of the Church corruption and decadence, he preached penitence as the only way of salvation. Contrary to every kind of luxury, that he considered source of depravity, he took to trial anyone he judged as an immoral person, organizing the so-called “bonfires of vanities”, where artworks, books, musical instruments and other objects were burned.
His power grew after the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent and when the Medici were banned from Florence. Taking advantage of the moment of uncertainty and of the great void that the most enlightened Medici had left in the city, Savonarola continued his sermons about the end of the world, and took care of reforming the Florentine government: for example, he introduced the “Grand Council”, consisting of 1500 members, for whom the “Hall of the Five Hundred” in Palazzo Vecchio was built, because they were supposed to gather 500 at the time (due to its complexity, this council never worked).