Basilica di San Lorenzo, Firenze, Italy
We recently spent three weeks in Italy for our summer vacation. My sister joined us this time around... so she and I planned a few excursions to Florence and Venice... with home base in the ever beautiful, Lago di Garda. Where do I begin? How can I distill the massive amount of sights, sounds, and tastes into a blog post... not to mention that the massive amount is still only a drop in the bucket of history, art, architecture, and culture that remains there in the city of Florence, Italy.
We arrived in the late morning to the train station with about three hours to kill before our Airbnb check-in. What did we do first? Why, we jumped right in with both feet! We headed over to the Basilica di San Lorenzo.
From the front, the facade is quite simple (compared to some of the more elaborate cathedrals we will see later!) - flat front, horizontal brick facade, and a large depiction of San Lorenzo hanging front and center.
But, my, oh my! There was much more in the back as you can see from the photo from Ron Reznick. He has taken some fantastic shots of the Basilica that put my photos to shame! The Basilica is part of a monastic complex that includes an open cloister, a library by Michelangelo, sculptures and other works by Donatello, the Old Sacristy by Brunelleschi, and the New Sacristy, also by the designs of Michelangelo.
Consecrated in 393, the Basilica of San Lorenzo is one of the churches that claims to be the oldest in Florence. For three hundred years, it was the cathedral of the city until the official seat of the bishop was moved to Santa Reparata (later to become the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (English, "Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower") or Il Duomo di Firenze.
There was a line, as with everything in Florence (or Europe during peak travel season), and we were in the middle of a heat wave. So, spending some time inside museums and cathedrals wasn't so bad, afterall. And, what better place to start than in the Laurentian Library done by Michelangelo!
Built in the Mannerist style in 1523 by Michelangelo, this library houses some 11,000 manuscripts and over 4,000 early printed books. The Medici's used this as their library and as an overall sign that they weren't just merchants, they were part of the intelligent and ecclesiastical society. Wiki goes into more detail about the architectural achievements of this library here.
Some very old manuscripts are conserved here; such as the Codex Amiatinus which is the earliest surviving manuscript of a nearly complete Bible in the Latin Vulgate version. It's also one of the finest specimens of medieval calligraphy.
Watch a bit of architectural description of Michelangelo's library in a short video here.
Downstairs in the crypt, we found the tombs of many of the Medici family as well as some of the treasures they accumulated. There was an interesting fascination with body remains on display during those times! The bust is of St. Pietro.
Finally, we entered the Basilica. The space was quite large and filled with artwork, altars, paintings, sculptures, and various spaces for worship... but it was all spaced out rather nicely.
Here are a few of the side altars:
Several domes (or cupolas):
And, a short selection of paintings along the walls in the Basilica:
The paintings are large in size and even larger in emotion and drama. I learned that the citizens of that time could not read... and messages got across quite easily by visual means.
|"The Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence" by Bronzino|
The above fresco, "The Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence" is by Bronzino. Who was Saint Lawrence? He was one of seven deacons in Ancient Rome who were martyred during presecution by Emperor Valerin in 258. Roman authorities deemed any Christians who were denounced to be executed and hand over their belongings. When this happened to Saint Lawrence, he allegedly asked for three days and in those three days, gave all of his belongings to the poor. One important treasure that he secretly sent home to his family was none other than the chalice used during Christ's last supper. (WHAT?!)
True or not, Wiki says:
"According to Catholic tradition the Holy Grail is a relic sent by St Lawrence to his parents in northern Aragon. He entrusted this sacred chalice to a friend who he knew would travel back to Huesca, remaining in the monastery of San Juan de la Peña, core of spiritual strength for the emerging Kingdom of Aragon. While the chalice's exact journey through the centuries is disputed, it is accepted by many Catholics that it was sent by his family to this monastery for preservation and veneration. Historical records indicate the chalice has been venerated and preserved by a number of monks and monasteries through the ages. Today the Holy Grail is venerated in a special chapel in the Catholic Cathedral of Valencia, Spain."
I'm channelling Indiana Jones at this point:
I'm channelling Indiana Jones at this point:
Legend has it that the authorities were so upset by this that they burned Saint Lawrence on the gridiron over the flames you see above.
Here in this Basilica, lies the resting place of one, Donatello, the most important Renaissance sculptor from Florence. His presence still lives on in many areas of Florence and in Italy. He was a great sculptor and was highly influential to the sculptors who followed after him...
One such sculptor was Michelangelo. Donatello's masterpiece, David, was the first free-standing nude statue and it would go on to influence Michelangelo's David.
Next up, Dante & Dali!