They are all buried in the Franciscan church of Santa Croce in Florence. This illustrious group are joined by radio inventor Marconi, nuclear genius Fermi and Dante (cenotaph only but buried in Ravenna) and other luminaries in a Florentine equivalent to Westminster Abbey. Indeed, the church is often referred to as the Temple of the Italian Glories (Tempio dell’Itale Glorie).
Indeed, the floor is littered with worn tombstones – rich families in medieval times paid handsomely to be buried in this hallowed sanctuary in a spiritual effort to be closer to Heaven.
Having being ex-communicated, Galileo took almost 100 years after his death to garner his spot in the basilica and along with his long overdue apology from the church in 1992 (350 years later), his funerary sculpture shows the Earth orbiting the Sun.
Started in 1294 and completed in 1442 (except for its Gothic exterior which took a further 400 years), Santa Croce is a Florentine masterpiece. Architecturally austere in the Franciscan style with simple arches and building materials, the church was built in effective competition with a Dominican church (who had a lot more money unrestricted by vows of poverty). For funding, the Franciscans approached the wealthy families of Florence, though the external decorations with its marble facadeweren’t finished for another 400 years.
The basilica is adorned with superb frescoes, the highlight being the stunning neighbouring Bardi and Peruzzi chapels (named for rich bankers who wanted an impressive family tomb). In these Giotto documented the life of St Francis (of nearby Assisi)and St John with emotional art that retold the stories of these significant saints. Remarkably, the works were whitewashed over and only rediscovered in the 19th century. Poor restoration attempts have lost much of the original lustre but they are still masterpieces to savour and enjoy. Note the sense of depth and use of light despite the idea of perspective only being developed more than a century later.
Wander around the serene cloister where a statue of Florence Nightingale stands (named after her city of borth) and pop into the Museo dell’Opera di Santa Croce which contains further treasures of the basilica.
Every year on June 24 (on Saint John’s Day, the patron saint of Florence), a madcap violent medieval cross between football and basketball (calcio storico) breaks out in the piazza in front of the church. Teams, representing the four main Florentine districts (in red, green. blue and white) and consisting of 27 bare chested men in renaissance pants attempt to throw a ball in the netting at the end of the arena while legally headbutting, choking, punching and elbowing opponents. With less rules than ice hockey, calcio storico has been played for over 500 years and is fast paced, colorful, riotously noisy and played with immense passion.
Florence is littered with magnificent art museums and churches but make sure any visit to Florence includes a couple of hours in Santa Croce to walk among the greats of Italian history, marvel at the stellar artistic works of Giotto (and others) and enjoy the ambience of the Santa Croce cloisters.
Recommendation: For a couple Euro more, you can get a biglietto cumultivo that also gets in you into the nearby Casa Buonarotti (as in Michelangelo’s family name), which includes some of the master’s early works.
Photo Credit: interior