Historic Building in Florence
The Badìa Fiorentina holds a significant place in the history of Florence. Originally founded in 978 by Willa, Marchioness of Tuscany, in memory of her late husband Hubert, the abbey was dedicated to the Virgin and assigned to the Cassinese Benedictines. It became one of the most important buildings in medieval Florence, and the presence of Benedictine monks within the city made a profound impact at that time, as they were typically located in more remote areas.
Hugh the Great (Ugo di Toscana), the son of Willa, further enriched the abbey with numerous donations and benefactions after becoming Margrave of Tuscany. His burial at the Badia Fiorentina ensured his memory lived on for centuries through various ceremonies and writings.
Over time, the abbey underwent changes and played different roles. Prior to the Badia Fiorentina being built, another church called St. Stephen’s Church or Chiesa del Popolo (People’s Church) stood in its place. Today, the Badia Fiorentina is home to the Monastic Communities of Jerusalem, preserving its religious significance and heritage. The abbey remains a symbol of Florence’s rich history and cultural heritage, and its presence in the heart of the city continues to attract visitors and locals alike to experience its spiritual and architectural splendor.
This noble benefactor was mentioned by Dante in his The Divine Comedy:
Each one, who bears the sightly quarterings
Of the great Baron (he whose name and worth
The festival of Thomas still revives)
His knighthood and his privilege retain’d
(Paradiso, Canto XVI, 127–130)
The Badia Fiorentina holds not only historical significance but also continues to be a place of religious devotion and cultural admiration. The beautiful statue by Mino da Fiesole, depicting the coat of arms of the Margraviate of Tuscany, serves as a tribute to Hugh the Great and adds to the abbey’s artistic allure. The wooden furniture and architectural elements further enhance the atmosphere of this ancient place.
Today, the Badia Fiorentina is home to the Fraternità di Gerusalemme, a congregation of monks and nuns. They conduct daily vespers and mass, providing both locals and tourists with a unique opportunity to participate in spiritual ceremonies within the captivating surroundings of this historic abbey. Many visitors have described attending vespers or mass at the Badia as a truly memorable and moving experience in Florence.
The abbey also holds a legendary connection to Dante Alighieri, the renowned Italian poet. It is believed that Dante first laid eyes on Beatrice, his muse and love, within the walls of this church, adding a romantic and poetic dimension to its history.
Furthermore, the Badia Fiorentina gained additional fame through Dan Brown’s novel “Inferno,” where the thrilling story commences with a mysterious event taking place at the abbey’s bell tower. This literary connection has further contributed to the abbey’s allure and intrigue, drawing even more attention to its rich past and cultural significance.
History of the Badia Fiorentina
The history of the Badia Fiorentina is a tapestry of architectural changes and transformations that reflect the passage of time and the influence of different patrons and periods. Here are some of the key architectural developments:
- Original Abbey: The original abbey was built at the edge of the first city walls and faced a different direction, with its façade to the west and three apses to the east.
- Expansion and Acquisitions: Over time, thanks to substantial donations and privileges from popes and emperors, the abbey acquired or inherited several surrounding properties. This helped establish the area as a center of book production, with monks engaged in activities such as paper-making, illuminating, and binding.
- Meeting Place for Priors and Magistrates: Before the construction of the Palazzo Vecchio, the priors and magistrates of the Republic used to meet in the Badia Fiorentina, highlighting its significance as a gathering place for civic affairs.
- Restructuring by Arnolfo di Cambio: In 1285, renowned architect Arnolfo di Cambio was commissioned to restructure the Badia. He enlarged the original Romanesque church, maintaining its axis. The external stone wall of the apse and the upper portion of the Gothic façade with its tympanum and rose window still stand today.
- Periods of Splendor and Decadence: Throughout its history, the Benedictine abbey witnessed periods of great splendor and humanist influence, as well as periods of decadence.
- Transformation in the 16th Century: In the early 16th century, the Pandolfini Chapel and entrance portico were added to the monastery by architect Benedetto da Rovezzano, commissioned by Giovan Battista Pandolfini. In 1627, Abbot Serafino Casolani initiated a complete transformation of the church’s architecture, adopting a Greek Cross plan, which is still visible today.
- Suppression and Re-purposing: The monastery was suppressed in 1810, and the complex was divided into houses, shops, offices, and store rooms.
- Interior Changes: The interior of the church underwent alterations in the 18th century, resulting in a mixture of styles. The elaborate carved wooden ceiling, added in 1631, conceals the original Gothic open timber roof. The presbytery features notable frescoes by Gian Domenico Ferretti and Pietro Anderlini.
Overall, the Badia Fiorentina stands as a remarkable testament to the city’s history, showcasing various architectural styles and influences that have shaped its identity over the centuries.
Artwork in the Badia Fiorentina
The Badia Fiorentina is indeed a treasure trove of artistic and architectural marvels, as evidenced by the exquisite altarpiece by Filippino Lippi and the impressive funerary monuments. Let’s delve into these highlights:
- Altarpiece by Filippino Lippi: The church’s greatest masterpiece is the altarpiece depicting the Virgin appearing to St. Bernard, painted by Filippino Lippi between 1482 and 1486. It was created for Piero di Francesco del Pugliese and later moved here from Marignolle in 1530 to protect it from destruction during the siege.
- Funerary Monuments: Among the notable funerary monuments in the Badia Fiorentina are:
- The tomb of Giannozzo Pandolfini (died 1456), attributed to the workshop of Bernardo Rossellino.
- The tomb of Bernardo Giugni, created by Mino da Fiesole.
- The tomb of Margrave Ugo of Tuscany (1466-81), also carved by Mino da Fiesole in marble and porphyry, crowned with a personification of Charity.
- The Neroni Dossal, another work by Mino da Fiesole, depicting the Madonna and Child between St. Leonard and St. Laurence.
- The Cloister of the Oranges: Despite alterations over the centuries, the Badia Fiorentina has managed to preserve the delightful Cloister of the Oranges, built between 1432 and 1438 with the assistance of Bernardo Rossellino.
- Fresco Cycle in the Upper Floor: The upper floor of the cloister features a fascinating fresco cycle depicting Scenes from the life of St. Benedict, painted by the anonymous Maestro del Chiostro degli Aranci (1436-39), who is possibly identified as the Portuguese artist Giovanni di Consalvo.
- Giotto’s Badia Polyptych: Although no longer located in the church, it is worth mentioning that Giotto’s Badia Polyptych was originally housed here. This impressive artwork is now displayed at the Uffizi Gallery, adding to the richness of Florence’s artistic heritage.
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Visiting Badia Fiorentina