The Church of Santa Croce

Jane’s Gems

Jane Fortune
October 19, 2006

Florence’s Pantheon and my favorite church in Florence, Santa Croce hosts 270 tombstones that pave the floor of the church, honoring those who strongly impacted the course of history in the fields of art, history and music. The most famous tomb belongs to Michelangelo, followed by those of Machiavelli, Galileo, Bruni, Rossini and Ghiberti. The largest Franciscan church in existence, Santa Croce was founded in 1294 to replace a smaller church built 1222. Completed in 1415, its aristocratic beauty, which leaves one breathless, is filled with one of the most famous fresco cycles by Giotto, the founder of Western painting. These frescoes were whitewashed by Vasari in the 16th century and again in the 1950s. After several previous restorations, the repainting was removed, leaving unattractive blank spaces that can be seen today.

 

Frescoes in the apse by Agnolo Gaddi, assistant to Giotto, are now being restored and can be viewed from the scaffolding by reservation on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. (Tel: 055- 264-5184; 10 Euro per person.) Other great works of art are Donatello’s priceless masterpiece, The Annunciation (1435), exquisite gilded limestone high relief, which expresses a quiet intimacy of emotions; and his wooden crucifix, located the Bardi di Vernio Chapel. It was called ‘a peasant on the cross’ by Brunelleschi, who carved his own crucifix to show Donatello how Christ should look. (Brunelleschi’s piece can be seen in the church of Santa Maria Novella.) Bronzino’s Pietà is also a noteworthy sculpture and, to the left of the entrance, playwright Giovanni Nicolini’s memorial is said to be the inspiration for the Statue of Liberty. Any guide book can walk you through the Church of Santa Croce, but don’t miss it, for it is truly a magical and mystical experience.

 

THE CHURCH OF SANTA CROCE:

Piazza Santa Croce

Phone: 055-2466-105

Open 9.30-5.30; Sunday: 1-5:30

Admission: 5 Euro

 

Sharing Galileo’s grave

Here’s a little-known, wonderful fact I discovered after reading Dava Sobel’s book Galileo’s Daughter. Galileo was originally buried in 1642 at the Novitate Chapel in Santa Croce under the Campanile. He was not allowed a Christian burial inside the church because he asserted that the Earth revolved around the sun, and was thus excommunicated by the Church. Ninety-five years later, in 1737, his body was moved to a marble sarcophagus inside the Church of Santa Croce. His tomb is located directly across from Michelangelo’s monument, for ‘it was believed that Michelangelo’s spirit leapt into Galileo’s body between the former’s death and the latter’s birth.’

 

The original tomb was to have three standing female forms representing Astronomy, Geometry and Philosophy. The last of the three was eliminated, but there is a third female inside the tomb, who remains invisible to the observer. When Galileo’s body was moved, a third coffin was discovered. Historians had known that Viviani, his pupil, was buried with him, but they did not know that his daughter, Suor Maria Celeste, had been buried there too. Viviani gave Galileo the best gift he could have by burying his daughter with him. There is no historical documentation noting that his daughter is buried there. As a side bar, it wasn’t until 1992 that the pope canceled the condemnation imposed upon Galileo by the Church in 1633.

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