The Basilica of Santa Croce is the largest Franciscan temple in the world, and legend says that the church was founded by St. Francis himself. It is named for the world famous Cimabue cross, created by the Renaissance artist Giotto.
If you have read some of this past month’s posts, you’ll know that arriving at a serene understanding of my adult Catholic faith has been a resurging theme during our European odyssey. I have wanted to attend Mass and finally did so this Sunday at Santa Croce… complete with accompanying thunderous pipe organ music… amazing!
Although I do not speak Italian beyond the level of a two year old, my comprehension of the language is good, and with the aural cues from a fine donna whose clear voice rang out through the entire hour, I was able to follow the missal and all that went on. The Mass was a very poignant experience, and while it did not reconcile all my conflicting emotions, I feel I have moved a step closer to reconciliation.
The construction of the current church, that replaced the older building, was begun on May 12th, 1294, probably by Arnolfo di Cambio, and paid for by some of the city’s wealthiest families. Consecrated in 1442 by Pope Eugene IV, the building’s design floor plan is an Egyptian or Tau cross (a symbol of St Francis). To the south of the church was a convent, although only a few of the buildings remain.
The current bell tower was built in 1842, replacing an earlier one damaged by lightning. A Jewish architect Niccolo Matas from Ancona, designed the church’s 19th century neo-Gothic facade, working a prominent Star of David into the composition.
Many famous Florentines, including Michelangelo, Rossini, Machiavelli, and Galileo Galilei (who was tried by the Inquisition and was not allowed a Christian burial until 1737, 95 years after his death) are buried at Santa Croce. There is also a memorial to Dante but his sarcophagus is empty. Matas wanted to be buried with his peers but because he was Jewish, he was interred under the porch and not within the walls.
I first became interested in this church while reading a novel, “The Sixteen Pleasures” by Robert Hellenga. The intriguing read is set during a time of true-life drama: 1966, when the Arno River flooded much of Florence, including Santa Croce. The water entered the church bringing mud, pollution and heating oil. The damage to buildings and art treasures was severe, taking several decades to repair. The novel’s plot is convoluted and often racy… it brought the city of the Medici to life for me.
After Mass, Jorge and I again found ourselves headed for the delightful bistro where we had dined the night before. Our delectable choice was a pasta dish with clams and mussels, chilled white wine and salt-free bread to soak up the juices… We rounded off the meal with a chocolate and pear dessert and of course, a shot of limoncelo… Another delightful day in Paradise!