Girolamo Maria Francesco Matteo Savonarola (Ferrara, September 21, 1452 – Florence, May 23, 1498) was an Italian clergyman, politician and preacher.A member of the Dominican order, he prophesied doom for Florence and Italy by advocating a “broad” model of popular government for the Florentine Republic established after the Medici were ousted.
In 1497, he was excommunicated by Pope Alexander VI, the following year he was hanged and burned at the stake as a “heretic, schismatic and for preaching new things,” and his works were included in the Index of Forbidden Books in 1559. Savonarola”s writings were rehabilitated by the Church in the following centuries to the point of being considered in important treatises on theology. The cause for his beatification was initiated on May 30, 1997 by the Archdiocese of Florence. Today Savonarola is considered a servant of God by the Church.
He was born in Ferrara on September 21, 1452, the third son of the merchant Niccolò di Michele dalla Savonarola and Elena Bonacolsi (of his older siblings, Ognibene and Bartolomeo, there is no information, while of his other siblings, Maurelio, Alberto, Beatrice, and Chiara, all that is known is that Alberto was a doctor and Maurelio was a Dominican friar like Girolamo.
The Savonarola family, originally from Padua, had moved in 1440 to Ferrara, where his grandfather Michele, a well-known physician and author of medical texts, was the archiater of Marquis Niccolò III d”Este and the Ferrara court. Michele Savonarola was a deeply religious man, a devotee of the Bible, of simple and severe customs and, although a courtier, or rather because of this, a scorner of court life; in old age he also wrote pamphlets such as De laudibus Iohannis Baptistae, which, together with his teachings and lifestyle, must have had considerable influence on Girolamo”s education: it was, after all, his grandfather who took care of his early education, teaching him grammar and music; he also learned drawing himself.
After the death of his paternal grandfather, his father Niccolò, wishing to initiate him into the medical profession, made him study the liberal arts; at first passionate about Plato”s Dialogues, so much so that he wrote a commentary on it, later destroyed by himself, he soon switched to Aristotelianism and Thomism. After obtaining the title of master in the liberal arts, he undertook the study of medicine, which, however, he abandoned already at the age of eighteen to devote himself to the study of theology; he wrote poetic compositions: his song De ruina mundi dates from 1472 in which themes of his future preaching already recur: …The earth is so oppressed by ogne vice,
In this spirit he heard in the church of St. Augustine in Faenza the words of a preacher who, commenting on the passage from Genesis Pàrtiti dalla tua terra e dalla tua famiglia e dalla casa del padre tuo, according to what he himself wrote, left his family on April 24, 1475, to enter the Bolognese convent of St. Dominic.
His vocation was probably influenced by his perception of a strong decadence of morals. In fact, in one of his letters to his family he wrote: “I choose religion because I have seen the infinite misery of men, the rapes, the adulteries, the stealing, the pride, the idolatry, the turpitude, all the violence of a society that has lost all capacity for good…. In order to live free, I gave up having a woman, and in order to live in peace, I took refuge in this harbor of religion.”
On April 26, 1475, he received the novice”s habit from prior Friar George of Vercelli, the following year he received his vows, on September 21, 1476 he was ordained subdeacon, and on May 1, 1477 he became a deacon. His superiors wanted him to be a preacher, and in that convent Studium generale he deepened his study of theology having among his teachers Peter of Bergamo, famous theologian author of the Tabula aurea, Dominic of Perpignan and Nicholas of Pisa. In 1479 he was sent from the convent to Ferrara and three years later to Reggio Emilia where, at the chapter of the Lombard Dominican Congregation on April 28, 1482, he was appointed lector in the Florentine convent of San Marco.
Convent of St. Mark (1482-1487)
Having arrived in the Florence of Lorenzo de” Medici – then the cultural capital of the peninsula or, as Girolamo himself would express it, the heart of Italy – in May 1482, he had the task in the convent of San Marco of expounding the Scriptures and preaching from the pulpits of the Florentine churches: and his conventual lectures were themselves preaching.
In Lent of 1484 he was assigned the pulpit of San Lorenzo, the Medici parish; he was unsuccessful, as the chronicles of the time testify, because of his Romagnola pronunciation, which must have sounded barbaric to Florentine ears, and because of the manner of his exposition: Savonarola himself later wrote that “I had neither voice, nor chest, nor manner of preaching, indeed it was in annoyance to every man my preaching,” and only “certain simple men and a few wenches” came to listen.
Meanwhile, on August 29 Giovanni Battista Cybo was elected pope with the name Innocent VIII after the death of Pope Sixtus IV on August 12, 1484. Perhaps it was at this time that Savonarola had, meditating in solitude in the church of St. George, that illumination, of which he spoke at the end of his life, during his trial, appearing to him “many reasons for which it was shown that some scourge was propinquo to the Church.”
He was sent to San Gimignano for Lenten sermons and immediately, in March 1485 preached in the Collegiate Church that the Church “had to be scourged, renewed and soon”: this is the first time his “prophetic” sermons are attested; on March 9 and then on October 23 of that year he received by letter from his mother in Ferrara news of the death of his father and uncle Borso.
Still from the pulpit of the Collegiate Church, the following year he affirmed that “we are soon expecting a scourge, either Antichrist or plague or famine. If you ask me, with Amos, if I am a prophet, with him I answer you Non sum propheta” and listed the reasons for the coming scourge: the efferences of men – murder, lust, sodomy, idolatry, astrological beliefs, simony – the bad pastors of the Church, the presence of prophecies – signs of coming misfortunes – contempt for the saints, little faith. There are no reports, however, that such sermons caused a stir and scandal, as the Lenten sermons given by Savonarola in 1487 in the Florentine church of Santa Verdiana did not.
Having completed his lector”s office in Florence, that same year he obtained the prestigious appointment as master in the Studium General of San Domenico in Bologna from where, after teaching for a year, he returned to Ferrara in 1488.
In Ferrara he stayed two years in the monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli, but did not give up frequent trips to preach, foreseeing the coming divine chastisements, in different cities, as he testified in the trial: “I preached in Brescia and in many other places in Lombardy sometimes of these things,” in Modena, in Piacenza, in Mantua; in Brescia, on November 30, 1489, he predicted that “e” padri vedrebbono ammazzare è loro figlioli e con molte ignominie straziare per le vie,” and indeed the city was sacked by the French in 1512.
The Ferrara convent sent him to Genoa to preach for Lent; Having set out, as always on foot, for Pavia, he wrote on January 25, 1490, to his mother, who complained of his continual wandering, that “if I were in Ferrara continually, believe that I would not bear as much fruit as I do from outside, yes because no religious, or very few, ever bear fruit of holy life in their own country, and therefore holy Scripture always cries out that one should go out of the country, si etiam because not as much faith is given to one of the country, as to one from abroad, in preaching and counsel; and therefore says our Savior that he is not a prophet accepted in his own country.”
As early as April 29, 1489, Lorenzo de” Medici, almost certainly at the suggestion of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, wrote “to the General of the Friars Preachers, that he send here Friar Hieronymo da Ferrara”: and so, on his way again, around June 1490 he entered Florence through the Porta di San Gallo, greeted by a stranger who had accompanied him almost all the way from Bologna, with the words, “Let you do that for which you are sent by God to Florence.”
Return to Florence (1490-1498)
From August 1, 1490 he resumed lectures in St. Mark”s – but all listeners interpreted them as real preaching – on the subject of Revelation and then also on the First Letter of John: he formulated the immediate need for the renewal and scourging of the Church and was not afraid to accuse rulers and prelates – “nothing good is in the Church . from the sole of the foot to the summit is no sanity in that” – but also philosophers and men of letters, living and ancient: he immediately had the favor of the simple, the poor, the discontented and the opponents of the de” Medici family, so much so that he was called by his contradictors the preacher of the desperate; on February 16, 1491 he preached for the first time in the pulpit of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. On April 6, Easter Wednesday, according to tradition, he preached in the Palazzo Vecchio before the Signoria, saying that the good and the bad of a city come from its leaders, but they are haughty and corrupt, exploit the poor, impose onerous taxes, and counterfeit currency. Many of Savonarola”s sermons were transcribed while being recited in church by the faithful notary Lorenzo Violi and printed shortly thereafter.
Lorenzo the Magnificent had him warned repeatedly not to preach such sermons, so much so that he himself found himself intimately conflicted about the necessity of continuing in that tenor but, as he wrote, on the morning of April 27, 1491, after hearing a voice say to him Fool, do you not see that God”s will is that you should preach in this way?, he climbed into the pulpit and made a terrifying praedicatio. To threats of confinement, such as was used by Lorenzo himself against Bernardino da Feltre, he replied that he did not care, predicting the coming death of the Magnifico: “I am a stranger and he a citizen and the first of the city; I have to stay and he has to go: me to stay and not him.”
Instead of banishing him, Lorenzo thought of using against Savonarola the eloquence of a famous Augustinian, Friar Mariano della Barba da Genazzano, an old preacher, cultured and elegant, who, in fact on May 12 preached before a large audience, among whom Lorenzo, Pico and Poliziano stood out, on the theme, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, Non est vestrum nosse tempora vel momenta, evidently polemical toward Savonarola”s prophecies. But he was unsuccessful, according to the chroniclers” account, and Savonarola, preaching three days later on the same theme, tamely reproached him for having turned against him.
In July, Girolamo was elected prior of the convent of San Marco. Of course, contrary to the custom of previous priors, he did not pay homage to Lorenzo and was not fazed by his gifts and conspicuous alms; in that year he published his first printed book, the Libro della vita viduale. On the night of April 5, 1492, lightning damaged the lantern of the Duomo, and many Florentines interpreted the incident as a bad omen; three days later Lorenzo de” Medici died at his villa in Careggi, with the comfort of Savonarola”s blessing, as Poliziano attested.
In May Girolamo went to Venice to participate in the General Chapter of the Lombard Congregation, of which St. Mark”s friary had been a part since 1456, since the plague of 1448 had decimated the number of friars so that it was necessary to unite with the Lombard Congregation, which was flourishing with friaries and friars. He returned to Florence on May 22, and four of his writings came out that year, the Treatise on the Love of Jesus on May 17, the Treatise on Humility on June 30, the Treatise on Oration on Oct. 20 and the Treatise in Defension of Mental Oration on an unspecified date.
On July 25 of that 1492 Pope Innocent VIII died, and on August 11 Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia was elevated to the papacy under the name of Alexander VI. Savonarola later commented on this election, arguing that it would return to the benefit of the Church, making its reform possible: “This is dessa, this is the way…this is the seed to be made this generation. You do not know the ways of the things of God; I tell you that if ”l were Saint Peter to come now to earth and would reform the Church, el non potria, anzi saria morto.”
Reform of St. Mark”s Convent
The support of Oliviero Carafa, the cardinal protector of the Dominican Order, was decisive in obtaining, on May 22, 1493, papal authorization for the independence of the convent of San Marco. Simply slipping the piscatorial ring on Borgia”s finger, without the latter making any opposition, the Neapolitan cardinal sealed the Brief he had already prepared.
Savonarola had a plan to make as many convents as possible independent so that he could control them and give greater force to the reform he had in mind. On August 13, 1494, he also obtained the detachment from the Lombard Congregation of the Dominican convents of Fiesole, San Gimignano, Pisa and Prato, thus creating a Tuscan Congregation, of which Jerome himself became Vicar General.
He wanted his friars to be an effective mendicant order, devoid of all private property, and he began by selling the friaries” possessions and personal belongings, distributing the proceeds to the poor, and he made economies in clothing and food; in this way, after all, alms to the friaries increased. Also because of the increased number of converts, he thought of the building of a new convent, more rustic and austere, to rise outside Florence, but he lacked the time to carry out the project. New and dramatic events were brewing in the destinies of the friar and the entire peninsula.
Descent of Charles VIII into Italy
Ludovico il Moro urged Charles VIII of France to come with an army to Italy to claim the Angevins” rights to the Kingdom of Naples, and on September 9, 1494, the French king met with Sforza in Asti. He then appears to have been in Genoa on September 21. Florence, which Piero de” Medici”s uncertain policy had lined up in defense of the Crown of Aragon in Naples, was traditionally pro-French, and the danger to which it saw itself subject accentuated the resentment, in most citizens, against the Medici.
That same day Savonarola climbed into the pulpit of a crowded cathedral and here delivered one of his most violent sermons – on the theme of the Flood – with a cry that, as he wrote, made Pico della Mirandola”s hair stand on end: Behold, I will overthrow the waters of the flood over the earth! In practice, the coming of King Charles was read as the fulfillment of apocalyptic prophecies.
Charles VIII was actually still in Asti but moved with the army for Milan and, by the way of Pavia, Piacenza and Pontremoli, entered Fivizzano on October 29, sacking it and laying siege to the fortress of Sarzanello, demanding that he be given the pass to Florence. Piero, changed counsel and unbeknownst to the city, granted him more than he asked for: the fortresses of Sarzanello, Sarzana and Pietrasanta, the cities of Pisa and Livorno, and free passage to Florence. He had just enough time to return to Florence on November 8 to be immediately driven out: the city proclaimed the Republic.
Reborn Republic and Savonarola
The Republic was governed by a Gonfalonier of Justice and eight Priors, constituting the new Signoria, while the Major Council, the result of the unification of the pre-existing Councils of the Municipality, the People and the Seventy, in which all Florentines who had turned 29 and paid taxes could participate, also elected a Council of eighty members, at least forty years old, whose task was to preliminarily approve government decisions before the Major Council”s final decision.
The factions of the Whites, republicans and the Bigi, pro-Médicis, were formed, similarly to the ancient rival factions of the Black and White Guelphs; transversely to these, a division of the citizenry was also formed into sympathizers of the friar, therefore called Frateschi and later Piagnoni, and in his avowed enemies, the Palleschi (i.e., devotees of the “balls” of the Medici coat of arms).
On November 16, 1494, Savonarola was at the bedside of his friend Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, who received the Dominican habit from him and died the next day. In his sermon on November 23, Savonarola eulogized him, adding that he had a revelation that his soul was in purgatory.
Directly from the pope, meanwhile, he was ordered by a Brief to preach the coming Lent of 1495 in Lucca; it is unclear whether the request was urged on Borgia by the Arrabbiati or by the Lucca authorities; however, following protests from the Florentine government, Lucca waived the request. Unsubstantiated rumors spread accusing Savonarola of hiding many assets in the convent and enriching himself with the treasures of the Medici and their followers; the Arrabbiati also tried to turn against him Friar Domenico da Ponzone, a former Savonarolian who, having come from Milan, was invited by the same Gonfalonier of Justice Filippo Corbizzi to dispute on January 8, 1495, before the Signoria with Girolamo, Tommaso da Rieti, Dominican prior of Santa Maria Novella and an opponent of Savonarola, and other clergymen.
Fra Tommaso accused him of meddling in the things of the State, against St. Paul”s nemo militans Deo implicat se negotis saecolaribus; but he did not take up the provocation and answered him only two days later from the pulpit, “You of the Order of St. Dominic, who say that we should not meddle with the State, you have not read well; go, read the chronicles of the Order of St. Dominic, what he did in Lombardy in the cases of States. And so of St. Peter martyr, what he did here in Florence, who meddled to compose and quiet this State St. Catherine made peace in this State in the time of Gregory pope. How often did Archbishop Antoninus go up to the Palagio to obviate iniquitous laws, that they should not be made!”
On March 31, 1495, the empire, Spain, the pope, Venice and Ludovico il Moro agreed on an alliance against Charles VIII; it was necessary for Florence to participate in it, to prevent the French king from any escape to France; but Florence and Savonarola were pro-French: it was necessary to discredit him and break down once and for all the influence he wielded in the city. Charles VIII, who had conquered without a fight the whole Kingdom of Naples, left half his armed forces there to garrison, and with the rest of his troops he hastened back to France: on June 1 he entered Rome from where Alexander VI had fled to Orvieto and then to Perugia, and the king continued his ascent north, much to the disappointment of Girolamo, who had hoped for a revolt in the city of the Papacy, and great fear of the Florentines, who had news of an agreement between Piero de” Medici and the king to retake Florence.
Savonarola met Charles VIII in Poggibonsi on June 17 to get assurances that Florence would not be damaged and that the Medici would not be restored; the king, who was thinking only of returning to France, had no difficulty reassuring him, and Friar Jerome was able to return to Florence triumphant. On July 7 Charles VIII forced the blockade of the League”s army at Fornovo and was given the green light for France, but his expedition was ultimately a failure: with his absence, the Kingdom of Naples easily returned to the possession of Ferrandino of Aragon, and Savonarola and his Republic now seemed much weakened.
On July 21, 1495, the pope sent Savonarola a Brief, in which, after expressing appreciation for his work in the Lord”s vineyard, he invited him to Rome ut quod placitum est Deo melius per te cognoscentes peragamus, so that he, the pope, might better do those things, known directly to the friar, that are pleasing to God. Of course Savonarola refused, in a letter of reply dated July 31, to go to Rome, citing reasons of health and promising a future meeting and, in the meantime, the sending of a booklet where the pope would infer his propositions: it is the Compendium of Revelations, published in Florence on August 18.
The pope responded on September 8 with another Brief in which Friar Girolamo, accused of heresy and false prophecies, was suspended from all duties and the judgment against him was referred to the vicar general of the Lombard Congregation, Friar Sebastiano Maggi. Savonarola responded on Sept. 30 by rejecting all charges and refusing to submit to the vicar of the Congregation, whom he considered his adversary and expecting the pope himself to absolve him of all charges; on Oct. 11 he accused the Arrabbiati from the pulpit of having brigaded with the pope to destroy him. Alexander VI, in a Brief of October 16, suspended his previous orders and only enjoined him to refrain from preaching, pending future decisions.
Savonarola obeyed but did not remain idle: on October 24 he published the Operetta sopra i Dieci Comandamenti and attended to the drafting of De simplicitate christianae vitae. In December appeared his Epistle to a Friend in which he rejected accusations of heresy and defended the political reform introduced in Florence. The Signoria, meanwhile, pressed the Pope to grant Friar Jerome permission to preach again: his ascendancy over the populace was indispensable to rebut the attacks that the Arrabbiati brought against the government and the friar himself, who were accused of being responsible for the loss of Pisa.
It seems that permission had come from Alexander VI orally vivae vocis oraculo to Cardinal Carafa and the Florentine delegate Ricciardo Becchi; in any case, on February 16, 1496, after being escorted to the cathedral by a processional crowd of 15,000 people, Jerome ascended to the pulpit of Santa Maria del Fiore, for the first sermon of that year”s Lenten season.
On Feb. 24 he lashed out against the Roman Curia, “We say nothing but true things, but it is your sins that profane against you we lead men to simplicity and women to honest living, you lead them to lust and pomp and pride, for you have corrupted the world and corrupted men into lechery, women into dishonesty, and you have led children to sodomy and spurcation and made them become like harlots.” These sermons were collected in a volume and published under the title Sermons over Amos.
Among the external enemies of Florence and of Savonarola in particular was not only the pope, but all the adherents of the anti-French League, such as Ludovico il Moro to whom the friar wrote on April 11, 1496, inviting him “to do penitentia de li soi peccati, perché il flagello si appropinqua di questo mio dire non ho aspettato né aspetto altro che infamia et opprobrii e persecuzioni e finalmente la morte.” and the Sforza replied apologetically, who knows how sincerely, “if though we have offended you and done you a molesting thing, and in doing penance and meriting with God we will not retireremo.”
In April he preached in Prato, in the church of San Domenico, heard by the usual large crowd, among whom were the leading Florentine philosophers of the time, the Platonic Marsilio Ficino and the Aristotelian Oliviero Arduini; at the end of that month Girolamo”s last operetta, the Expositio psalmi Qui regis Israel, was printed in Florence – posthumously, in 1499, the Sermons over Ruth and Micah, composed by November 1496, would appear – while his proposal to prohibit by law low-cut dresses and elaborate hairstyles for women was rejected by the Republic.
In August Alexander VI offered him, through the Dominican Lodovico da Valenza-others intend that the messenger was the pope”s own son, Cesare Borgia, cardinal of Valencia-the appointment as cardinal on condition that he retracted his previous criticisms of the Church and abstained from them in the future; Friar Jerome promised to respond the next day, at the sermon, which he delivered in the Council Chamber, in the presence of the Signoria. After going over the events of the past years, gradually becoming heated, he came out with a cry, “I don”t want hats, I don”t want large or small mitres, I want what you gave your saints: death. A red hat, but of blood, I want!”
On August 23, 1496, Ludovico il Moro reported that he had intercepted two letters from Savonarola addressed to France; one, addressed to Charles VIII, urged him to come to Italy while the other, addressed to a certain Niccolò, warned him against the Archbishop of Aix, the French ambassador to Florence, claiming his disloyalty to the King and hostile attitude to Florence. It seems that those letters were forgeries and that the Moor”s initiative tended to break the Franco-Florentine alliance and discredit Friar Jerome, who denied ever having written them.
On February 7, 1497, Savonarola organized a bonfire of the vanities in Florence, in which many art objects, paintings with pagan content, jewelry, precious furnishings, and luxurious clothes were set on fire, with incalculable damage to Florentine Renaissance art and culture.
He was excommunicated by Pope Alexander VI on May 12, 1497, but in recent years it has been proven, both by personal correspondence between the friar and the pope and by correspondence between the pope and other personalities, that that excommunication was false. It was issued by Cardinal Archbishop Juan López of Perugia on behalf of the pope, at the instigation of Cesare Borgia, who hired a forger to create a fake excommunication and destroy the friar. Alexander protested strongly against the cardinal and threatened Florence with an Interdict so that the friar would be handed over to him so that he could rescue him and have him exonerated, but he was so succubus to his son Cesare that he did not act with all the power he had nor did he ever dare to reveal to the world the deception perpetrated by his beloved son against a man he esteemed as a saint.
Savonarola”s first sermon after excommunication began by feigning a dialogue with an interlocutor, who reproached him for preaching despite being excommunicated: “Have you read this excommunication? Who sent it? But supposing by chance that it were so, do you not remember that I told you that still that it came, it would be worth nothing? marvel not at our persecutions, go not astray you good men, for this is the end of the prophets: this is the end and our gain in this world.” Ironically, that excommunication really was worth nothing, but not for the reasons the friar thought, unless Savonarola had learned of its true origin but without telling the truth about it.
Savonarola continued his campaign against the vices of the Church, if possible even more violently, creating numerous enemies, but also new admirers, even outside Florence: a brief correspondence with Caterina Sforza, lady of Imola and Forlì, who had asked him for spiritual advice, dates back to this very period. The Florentine Republic at first supported him, but then, for fear of papal interdiction and the diminishing prestige of the friar, withdrew its support. A trial by fire to which he had been challenged by a rival Franciscan was also prepared, but it did not take place because of heavy rain that extinguished the flames.
Trial and conviction
As French support failed him, he was outvoted by the resurgent Medici party, which had him arrested and tried for heresy in 1498. The capture of the friar, barricaded with his confreres in St. Mark”s, was particularly bloody: on Olive Sunday the convent was besieged by the Palleschi, the supporters of the Medici and anti-Savonarolian party, while the “Piagnona” bell rang in vain with a hammer; the door of the convent was set on fire and the convent stormed throughout the night, with clashes between the friars and the assailants. In the middle of the night Savonarola was captured and dragged out of the convent with Friar Domenico Buonvicini, crossing by torchlight Via Larga toward the Palazzo Vecchio, where he entered by the hatch. In stooping down an armiger kicked his bottom taunting him, “Ve” where the prophecy has him!”
He was locked up in the “Alberghetto,” the cell in Arnolfo”s tower, and underwent interrogation and torture. The trial was blatantly manipulated: Savonarola underwent rope torture, the torture of fire under his feet, and was then placed for a whole day on the trestle, suffering dislocations all over his body. Eventually he was sentenced to be burned in Piazza della Signoria with two of his brethren, Domenico Buonvicini, from Pescia, and Silvestro Maruffi, from Florence.
At dawn on May 23, 1498, on the eve of the Ascension, after spending the night of comfort with the Black Battuti of the Company of Santa Maria della Croce al Tempio, the three religious, having heard Mass in the Priori Chapel in the Palazzo della Signoria, were led to the arengarium of the same palace where they suffered degradation by the Tribunal of the Bishop. In the same place were also the Tribunal of the Apostolic Commissioners and that of the Gonfaloniere and the Otto di Guardia and Balìa, the latter being the only ones who could decide on the condemnation. After the degradation and removal of the Dominican habit, the three friars were sent to the gallows, erected near where the Neptune fountain would later rise and connected to the palace”s arengarium by a footbridge nearly two meters high from the ground. The gallows, five meters high, stood on a pile of wood and brooms sprinkled with bombard powder. Children squatted under the gangplank, as was common during executions, wounding the soles of their feet as the condemned men passed by with sharp wooden sticks. Dressed in a simple white wool tunic Savonarola was hanged after Friar Sylvester and Friar Dominic. Amid the shouts of the crowd a fire was set to that pile, which shortly flamed violently, burning the now lifeless bodies of the hanged men. In the burning one of Savonarola”s arms came off, and his right hand seemed to rise with two straight fingers, as if he wanted to “bless the ungrateful Florentine people.”
The ashes of the three friars, the stage and everything burned were taken away in carts and thrown into the Arno from the Ponte Vecchio, partly to prevent them from being taken away and made the object of veneration by the many followers of Savonarola mixed in the crowd. Indeed, Bargellini says that “there were gentlewomen, dressed as servants, who came to the square with copper pots to collect the hot ashes, saying they wanted to use them for their laundry.” Indeed, a scorched finger and the iron collar that had supported the body were found, which have since been kept in the monastery of San Vincenzo in Prato. The next morning, as mentioned above, the place where the execution took place appeared all covered with flowers, palm leaves and rose petals. Overnight, pitiful hands had thus wished to pay homage to the memory of the ascetic preacher, beginning the tradition that endures to this day. The exact spot where the martyrdom took place and today the Fiorita takes place was indicated by a marble dowel, already in existence, where the “Saracino” was placed when the joust was run. This is deduced from Del Migliore”s “Firenze illustrata,” who writes thus, “some citizens sent to bloom well at night, in su l”ora addormentata, that place precisely where the stile was planted; which there is for a sign a marble dowel not far from the fountain.”
In place of the ancient dowel for the game of Saracen, there is currently the circular plaque commemorating the precise spot where “friar Hieronimo” was hanged and burned. The tombstone, made of red granite, bears an inscription in bronze characters.
Savonarola claimed to have had the gift of prophecy. In his writings he develops a true theology of Christian prophecy and clearly announces in the name of God the scourges for Italy and the Church: “…In these three ways we have had and known future things, some in one some in another; although in whatever of these ways I have had them, I have always been certified of the truth by el lume predetto. Seeing the almighty God multiply the sins of Italy, especially in the leaders both ecclesiastical and secular, not being able to sustain them any longer, he determined to purge his Church by a great scourge. And because, as it is written in Amos the prophet, non faciet Dominus Deus verbum, nisi revelaverit secretum suum ad servos suos prophetas, he willed for the health of his elect, so that before the scourge they might prepare themselves to suffer, that in Italy this scourge should be pre-announced; and Florence being in the midst of Italy as the heart in the midst of the body, he deigned to elect this city in which such things are preannounced, so that through her they may spread to other places, as by experience we see to be done at the present time. Having therefore among his other servants elected me unworthy and useless for this office, he had me come to Florence …..” Precisely because he exalts his own prophetic spirit-about which Machiavelli would later ironize in the Decennals-Savonarola inveighs against astrologers, who claimed to know the future: his treatise Against Astrologers is inspired by Pico della Mirandola”s monumental Disputationes adversus astrologiam divinatricem, which nevertheless constitute a book quite different in both bulk and speculative commitment.
By a decree of Pope Paul IV, Savonarola”s writings were placed on the Index of Forbidden Books in 1559, from which they were removed in 1740 by Pope Benedict XIV.
In Florence in the years 1869-70, three committees were formed to erect a monument to Savonarola, which gave rise to two separate statues of the Dominican friar: that of Giovanni Dupré, preserved in the museum of San Marco, and that of Enrico Pazzi in Piazza Savonarola.
The Municipality of Ferrara instituted a special competition in 1867 for the erection of a monument to be placed in the friar”s hometown, which was won in 1871 by Stefano Galletti of Cento, a work inaugurated on May 23, 1875, and placed in the square of the same name already previously named after the friar, by a council vote of February 7, 1860.
on May 30, 1997, as the fifth centenary of his death approached, the General Postulation of the Dominicans asked the Archdiocese of Florence to begin considering the possibility of a cause of beatification and canonization for Savonarola. The historical and theological commissions, instructed by Cardinal Silvano Piovanelli, archbishop of Florence, have presented their positive conclusions. However, the nihil obstat for initiating the cause was never granted by the Holy See.
The St. Mark”s Museum in Florence preserves numerous memoirs of the friar.
Savonarola”s works include:
Roman publisher Angelo Belardetti published from 1955 to 1999 the National Edition of Savonarola”s works in twenty volumes divided into several tomes. The editors of the works include the Hon. Giorgio La Pira, Roberto Ridolfi, Eugenio Garin, Luigi Firpo, Mario Martelli, and Claudio Leonardi. The preaching friars, to whom he belonged, edited his texts, with exegesis and theological commentary.
Many years after his passing, the term Savonarola became an adjective of derogatory or ironic connotation that stands for a person who vehemently rails against moral degradation: the Republican Ugo La Malfa, for example, was nicknamed “The Savonarola of politics.”