JUNE 24: ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST PATRON FEAST

On June 24, Florence celebrates one of its most important holidays: its patron saint day, St. John the Baptist. It is on this date, in fact, that the Church celebrates the Nativity of this saint considered the Forerunner of Christ, and the one that introduced baptism in the water as a form of purification.
Many events take place in the city during this day. But: why is St. John the Baptist so important for Florence?

The city’s worship of this saint is clearly visible in many artworks, where the classical iconography depicted him either as a child, the so called “Giovannino” (“Little John”), together with the Virgin Mary and the Child, or as an adult, clothed with camel’s hair, to remember his life as an ascetic in the desert. In Florence, the main monument dedicated to him is, indeed, the Baptistery of St. John, located in the square with the same name, in front of the Cathedral; this has become therefore the center of the festivities dedicated to him.

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The Florentine Football

The “Florentine football”, also known as “historic football” or “costume football” is a Florentine tradition that dates back to the 15th century. It is a mix of soccer and rugby (and nowadays a little wrestling too!), because ball is grabbed with hands; this game was played especially during carnival time, and this explains the reference to costumes in its name. Nowadays players are dressed in medieval-style costumes, each one with the colors of his own team. Teams are four, one for each historic quarter of the city: Santa Croce (Blues), San Giovanni (Greens), Santa Maria Novella (Reds) and Santo Spirito (Whites).
In the 15th and 16th centuries the “Florentine football” was considered an aristocratic game, something that derived from what children used to play in the streets, or soldiers in the military camps, but at the higher level, and for this reason some of the main citizens of Florence had taken part to it, like Piero de’ Medici, son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, or Giulio de’ Medici (future Pope Clemens VII), and the Grand Duke Cosimo I. It was played alternately in the main squares of the city, but the version that came to us, becoming one of the traditional festivals of the city, was the game played by the soldiers, and from that moment on the game has developed in a more popular way. It reproduces an important game in the history of the city: the one played by the Florentines in February 1530 during the siege of the Spanish troops of Charles V. While the city was under this siege commanded by the general of the king-emperor Charles V (1529-30), the Florentines decided to play their traditional “soccer” game in Santa Croce square, to show their enemies, camped nearby outside the city walls, that they were not a bit intimidated by the situation, and that this would not stop them from having fun.

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May 23: La Fiorita

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).

Foto: @miogr

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