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The Basilica of Santa Croce

September 28, 2015

While visiting Florence this summer, my sister and I stayed in a lovely Airbnb flat right around the corner from the magnificent Basilica of Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross).  Magnificent because it is the resting place of some of the most illustrious Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Foscolo, and Rossini, thus it is known also as the Temple of the Italian Glories (Tempio dell'Itale Glorie).

 The basilica was started in 1294 and is the largest Franciscan church in the world.  Franciscans believe in the teachings and spiritual disciplines of St. Francis of Assisi, who, in 1209, heard a sermon on Matthew 10 that made such an impression on him that he devoted his life to apostolic poverty.  The first Franciscans arrived in Florence around the same time and St. Francis arrived a few years later... and as legend has it, founded the Basilica of Santa Croce.

Construction of the basilica was funded by the citizens and the Republic of Florence and was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio.  The most notable features are the sixteen chapels, three naves, several different architectural spaces, and the many tombs and cenographs.  The building design reflects the austere approach of the Franciscan Order.  Here is a photo of the facade enjoyed by the citizens of Florence until the marble facade was constructed:

The floor plan is shaped like an Egyptian or Tau Cross, while the complex itself includes the Sacristy, The Bell Tower, The Square, The Cloisters, The Pazzi Chapel, The Opera's Museum, and The Basement.  There was so much to see here - remember to block off at least a few good hours!

To be honest, my main reason for wanting to visit Santa Croce was to view the tombs of Michelangelo and Galileo... Two great masters in their fields.  However, I did not know all of the other historical persons or artwork that awaited us there.

I mean, seriously, it was as if I had stumbled onto a treasure trove of historical antiquities!

First off, the paintings...

The Descent of Christ, Bronzino (1552)

The Resurrection, Santi di Tito (1565)

The Pieta', Bronzino (1569)

Pentacost, Giorgio Vasari

The paintings here were larger than life and full of drama... and the tombs were no different.  Here's a complete list.

Tomb of Vittoria Alfieri, Founder of Italian Tragedy

Tomb of Prince Neri Corsini

Tomb of Dante Algierhi, Poet

Tomb of Leonardo Bruni, Humanist, Historian, and Statesman

Tomb of Giovanni Battista Niccolini, Poet and Playright

The above sculpture is said to be the inspiration for The Statue of Liberty.

Tomb of Gioachino Rossini, Master Composer

Tomb of Galileo, Astronomer, Physicist, Engineer, Philosopher, and Mathematician

Tomb of Michelangelo, Sculptor, Painter, Architect, Engineer, and Poet

A few other notable mentions...

Eugenio Barsanti, One of the Inventors of the Internal Combustion Engine

Leonardo Da Vinci, The Master

Ugo Foscolo, Writer, Revolutionary, and Poet

Guglielmo Marconi - Pioneer of Long Distance Radio Transmissions

Guiseppe La Farina, Influential Leader of the Italian Risorgimento.

Florence Nightingale, Founder of Modern Nursing

Phew, so much history, and we've only just begun.

A few shots of the church interior and numberous chapels...

Looking toward the Main Chapel

The Pulpit by Benedetto Maiano

The Annunciation by Dontello

The Pieta'

Next, we entered the Sacristy and the adjoining Medici Chapel.

Crucifix by Cimabue

Detailed Woodwork

Wood Inlays

Look at this tassle!

And these hangers!


Inside the Medici Chapel...

Downstairs, we found another hall of tombs!

This was new - the above tombstone has a painting of the deceased.  Reminds me of the modern style we have now with an actual photo of the deceased.

Outside, phew, a breath of fresh air... and a war memorial by Bandellini.

Onto the Pazzi Chapel, designed by Brunelleschi.

Pazzi Chapel

Here's a link to some great photography of Santa Croce.  I'm sure they used something more professional than my iPhone 6.   The photos here capture so much more of the life and history of these artifacts.
Something I just learned in my research - The nearby Arno River experienced a great flood in 1966... and the damage was quite significant.

[Credit:Fratelli Alinari]


The greatest loss for Santa Croce was the irreparable damage to The Crucifix by Cimabue.  It hangs in the Sacristy and is the symbol of the Flood of 1966.  
Florence experienced several floods in the past... and restoring damaged artifacts became quite necessary.  In the Opera Museum, there are many such damaged masterpieces that are in various states of restoration.

The Last Supper by Taddeo Gaddi

St. Louis of Toulousse by Donatello


Mother and Child

Mother and Child

The Crucifix by Cimabue (1200's)

Humiliana de Cerchi

Expulsion of Joachim by Giambologna

Wow.  So. Much. History.  There's just not enough time to see all of Florence.  My husband tells me it takes years and years of visits to Florence to even get a good grasp of all that happened in this lovely city.  I will definitely return if I get the chance to!
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