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of how, to use his own words, tc man renders himself
liable by good or ill desert, in the exercise of his free-
will, to rewarding or punishing justice," which just
means, in simple language, that what we sow here, we
shall reap hereafter. Only Dante saw, with clearer eyes
than many of us see nowadays, that God can turn
pain and suffering, in the next life, as well as this, to a
good end, and that in His love He can use them to
purify the souls of men, and make them more fit to be
with Him at last.

Dante, or to give him his full name, Durante Alighieri,
was the son of a member of the Guild of Wool, a
woollen merchant, as we should call him, and he was
born in the month of May, 1265.

We do not know if there was anything remarkable
about his early childhood, but when he was nine years
old something very strange happened, not strange in
itself, but in the consequences that followed it.

His father had a friend named Tolco Portinari, who
seems to have been better off than himself, for he lived
in a larger house, and, when little Dante was nine years
old, this Tolco gave a May-Day feast, and invited, not
only all his grown-up friends, but their children as well,
which must have made it a most delightful gathering.

And there among the children, was Toko's own little
daughter, Beatrice, whom he called u Bice," for short,


Its Poet 73

although she was always addressed by her proper name
in company.

She was a few months younger than Dante, and
seems to have been a very charming child, with gentle,
modest manners, and grave beyond her years.

As their parents were friends, it appears impossible that
the children had not met before, but on that evening
the little boy seemed to see the little girl in a new light,
almost as if she were a being too bright and rare for
this earth, and from that moment she represented to
him all that was pure and good and true, and, although
he never married her, as one might have expected him
to do when they were both grown up, the thought of
her was the inspiration of his life, and he always tried
to be worthy of her friendship.

He thought so much of this meeting, that, when he
was a man, he wrote down, quite seriously, all about it,
and tells us how Beatrice's dress that day, f was of a
most noble colour, a subdued and goodly crimson,
girdled as best suited her very tender age."

We do not read that Dante saw much more of
his <c Blessed Lady," as he used to call her, in after
years. At least, they were not close friends. But he
used to watch her coming and going through the streets,
and once, when she was about eighteen, he tells us he
met her walking with two of her companions, and she
gave him a most " gracious greeting."

She married a man much older than herself, and very
soon afterwards she died, and Dante's heart was broken.
Not that his life was spoilt far from it. Beutria
death was the beginning of his life-work, for which, it
seemed, he could only be prepared by bitter sorrow.

He married, and had a number of children, and took

FL. 10

74 Florence

his part right manfully in public affairs. He served
as a soldier, and even became one of the eight Priori,
or chief magistrates of the city. Then, at the age of
twenty-six, he was most unjustly banished from Florence
by the Guelphs, whose follower he once had been, but
whose ranks he had left to join those of the Ghibellines,
and, although he lived for twenty-one years afterwards,
he was never allowed to return.

But this was only his outward life. His mind was
constantly dwelling on Beatrice, and on the unseen
world on which she had entered, and more and more
he began to look on every earthly thing only in regard
to what its value would be in the next world.

When he saw men fighting for place and power, he
asked himself what good earthly place and power would
do them when they came to die, and when he heard of
men growing rich by oppressing their poorer neighbours,
or simply living in luxury and pleasing themselves, he
wondered how God would judge such lives.

Then when he became an exile, and his time was no
longer taken up by the affairs of government, he
pondered over these questions still more deeply, until
it really seemed to him that he was taken into the
Unseen World, and, in his mortal body, travelled
through Hell, and the Place of Purification, and into
Heaven itself. In those regions it seemed to him that
he met people that he knew. Some of them had
deliberately led wicked lives, and had died unre-
pentant, and were therefore hopelessly sunk in Hell.
Others, again, had really wanted to be good, but had
been greedy, lazy, slothful, proud, envious, unloving,
or passionate ; or had been covetous and cared too
much about being rich ; or gluttonous, and cared too

Its Poet 75

much about eating and drinking. These were slowly
climbing a mountain, and, as they climbed, they were
being purified by having to bear punishments suited to
their faults.

The proud, who had carried themselves so arrogantly
on earth, had to go about for a time weighed down by
heavy burdens ; those who had made everything dark
around them through their anger and ill-temper, had to
walk and live in thick black smoke which almost blinded
them. Those who had been lazy, and unwilling to
exert themselves in God's service, could not rest, but
felt that now they must for ever be running onward ;
those who thought only about money were obliged to
lie with their faces in the dust, with their backs turned
towards the Heaven they longed to enter, and so on.

But, in spite of all these punishments, the Mount of
Purification was a happy place, for those who were
suffering there were learning to see what their sin had
been, and were gradually being purified and made
ready for the Presence of God.

Then, finally, Dante passed into Heaven, and saw the
bliss and happiness of the Saints among whom was
Beatrice who had so overcome their faults in this lite,
and so denied themselves, and lived only for God's
glory, that they had been counted worthy to be with
Him at once in Heaven.

Dante described all these things in a long poem of
fourteen thousand lines, called the "Divina CommeJia,"
which is divided into three parts the Inferno, the
Purgatoro, and the Paradiso which has been trans-
lated into English, and you may read it for yourselves
when you are older.

Of course a great deal of it is allegorical ; we cannot


say that it is literally true, that when we die things
will happen to us exactly as Dante says they will ; but
it is true in spirit, and contains a great many lessons
v/hich it would be well for us to ponder, and gives us
many ideas about the future life which make that life
appear much more real and interesting.



IF Florence had its poet, it also had its martyr-

I can only tell you here the bare outline of his life,
but no book about Florence, no matter how small it is,
would be complete without some mention of him, for
although he was not born in the city, he spent the best
years of his life in seeking the good of the citizens, both
religiously and politically, and he laid it down at last
for their sakes. He was born at Ferrara in 1452, and
his parents were gentlefolks, although they were not
very rich. His grandfather had been a very celebrated
physician, and it was hoped that young Girolamo tor
that was his Christian name might follow in his steps.
Perhaps at first he made up his mind to do so, and
looked forward to a life of prosperity and honour, but
other thoughts began to fill his brain as he grew older,
and another Voice to call him.

Italy was in a very flourishing condition at this time,
and it almost always happens that when people grow
rich and comfortable they also grow lazy and luxurious,
and sometimes even wicked. The Italians had grown
very wicked and careless, and their wickedness and care-
lessness vexed the soul of the young Savonarola, who

Its Martyr 77

was very grave-minded, and serious beyond his years.
He did not know what to do. He did not see what
was the best way in which he could make a protest
against the luxury, selfishness, and idleness of the people,
and we are told that he often used to repeat this prayer :
" O Lord, make me to know the way wherein I may
guide my soul."

At last he determined to enter a monastery ; so he
joined the Dominican Order at Bologna. He was just
twenty-three then, and for seven long years he had to
wait, as so many strong men have had to wait, before
he could lift a finger, or utter a word, to try to fight the
evils he saw everywhere around him. For instead of
being sent out to preach, as so many of the Dominican
Brethren were, he was set to teach the novices philo-
sophy, which has very little to do with everyday life.

Then he was sent to Florence, to the Monastery of
San Marco, which we have already visited, and which
must have looked, on the day that he entered it, very
much as it looks now, with its quiet cloisters and its
little cells, with Fra Angelico's pictures painted upon
their walls. For, at the time that Savonarola came to
Florence, the "Blessed Angelico " had been dead only
some thirty years.

Now, if the people of Ferrara were luxurious and
wicked, the people of Florence were more so. For the
city was ruled at this time by one of the Medici, whose
name was Lorenzo, who was practically a pagan, and
who was so fond of splendour and foolish display ot all
kinds, that he was known as "Lorenzo the Magnificent.' 1
He set a very bad example to the citizens, especially to
the younger generation, who were growing up without
belief in God, and who learned from him to think that

78 Florence

it was a fine thing to live in idleness, and wastefulness,
and sin.

Even in Florence, for a time, Savonarola had very little
opportunity to speak the words of warning and rebuke
that had been in his heart for so many years. He still
had to teach the novices, but, occasionally, in Advent or
Lent, he was sent out along with the other monks to
preach. But he was a Lombard, and the accent of the
Lombards was a trifle hard and uncouth compared to
the accent of the cultivated Florentines, so it came to
pass that when he preached his first sermon in the Church
of San Lorenzo, there were only about twenty-five people
who had the patience to listen to him.

After that he was only allowed to preach in the little
villages in the mountains, where the people were not so
particular, and where they listened gladly to what he had
to say to them about the need for repentance, and the
care that they must take to live godly lives. These
preaching tours took place, as we have seen, only once
or twice a year, and the rest of his time was spent in the
quiet monotony of lecturing to the novices. It is said
that in these years of patient waiting Savonarola learned
the whole of the Bible by heart, and that is perhaps why
he afterwards gained such influence as a preacher.

But, although he was only supposed to teach his pupils
philosophy, it was impossible for him to keep other things
out of his lectures the things that spoke of" righteous-
ness, temperance, and judgment to come," and as there
were many grave and serious-minded men in Florence,
who were distressed and alarmed at the mad thoughtless-
ness which seemed to have taken possession of their
fellow-citizens, they listened to the rumours which began
to get about of the monk of San Marco who spoke so

Its Martyr 79

plainly and wisely to the students under his care. One
by one they went to hear him lecture, then they took
any of their friends who were of the same mind as
themselves, and by-and-by Fra Savonarola's lecture-
room became too small for his audience, and we have a
delightful picture of him leading his listeners out to
the cloister one summer evening that cloister on the
walls of which Fra Angelico's Crucifixion is painted, and
sitting below a damask rose-tree, talking of the serious-
ness of life and death, the white-robed novices clustered
round him, while the rest of the space was filled with
the grave Signers of Florence, who drank in eagerly
every word he said.

After that they begged that his voice might be heard
in the church near by, and, for the next eight years, he
preached at regular intervals, first in the Church of San
Marco, and then, as the crowds who thronged to hear
him grew larger and larger, in the vast Cathedral itself.

People say that he was one of the greatest preachers
that the world has ever known, and this was because he
was so much in earnest. He was like St. John the
Baptist, he had a burning desire to " prepare the way
of the Lord," and the whole burden of his message to
the people was that they should " repent " and put away
their evil doings from them. "If not," he said, u an
awful doom will fall on the Church, and on the city
which you love so well."

And, strange to say, people flocked in thousands to
hear him. They forgot the roughness of his Lombard
tongue ; they did not heed that he prophesied hard thir
to them instead of smooth ; they only knew that some
strange Power spoke through him, as he stood in the
pulpit of the immense dark church, in his black-and-

80 Florence

white robes, grasping a crucifix in his hand, which he
held out to them as if pleading with them to learn
what self-denial meant, while they stood in awestruck
and breathless silence below.

I have not space to tell you all the consequences of
his preaching ; you must read the story for yourselves.
Florence became a different city ; many people turned
their backs on their old lives, and became from thence-
forth God-fearing, sober, and righteous.

There is only one story I must relate, because it has
to do with children. There were quite as many street-
arabs in Florence as there are in any other large town
to-day, and they were just as uncared-for and neglected.
And as the times were lawless, so were these boys. In
fact, they were a danger to everyone. They barricaded
the streets, and would let no one pass until they had
paid a kind of " toll ' in money. They collected any
wood that they could lay hands on, and made great bon-
fires in the public squares, and they nearly killed, indeed
they sometimes did kill, anyone who interfered with
them, by pelting them with stones.

In some marvellous way Savonarola got hold of these
lads, and formed them into what seems to have been an
organization like the " Boy Scouts." He divided them
into bands according to the districts in which they lived.
Each band had its own captain. And, more wonderful
still, he persuaded them to turn their energies to more
useful occupations than molesting peaceable travellers,
burning useless bonfires, and throwing stones. One bon-
fire, indeed, he permitted them to make. He had begged
the grown-up people who gathered in the Cathedral to
destroy a great many of their fine dresses, and their use-
less ornaments and playthings, their powder, and paint,


Its Martyr 81

and false hair, their cards and dice. And he sent these
bands of boys round to their houses to collect those
things, and throw them into a big bonfire, which they
had lit in the great square before the Palazzo Vecchio.
This bonfire was called the " Bonfire of Vanities," and,
if some things were destroyed in it that need not have
been in better and happier times, I have no doubt that
the fine ladies and pleasure-seeking young men felt
that at least they had taken one decisive step in the
right direction, when they parted with the baubles on
which they had put such store, and over which they
had spent so much time and money.

That was at the beginning of Lent, 1496, and on the
following Palm Sunday Savonarola collected all the
children at San Marco, dressed, as many of them as
could afford it, in little white robes, like surplices, and
wearing wreaths of flowers on their heads, and, giving
them tiny red crosses and sprigs of palm, to remind them
of the first Palm Sunday, and of the Passion week which
followed it so quickly, he led them through the streets
to the Cathedral, singing hymns as they went. Surely,
the man who could gather the children round him like
this must have had a great, loving, simple heart.

By this time he was Prior of San Marco, and, if we
will, we can see the cell which he occupied, with its stool,
desk, and crucifix, its bare floor and little arched window,
and even a volume of his written sermons, brown with
age, with beautifully neat notes made on the margin ;
and, in a glass case on the wall, some fragments of his
garments and a bit of the wood with which he was burned.
For after all the love and enthusiasm and devotion that
he inspired, he died a martyr's death, as so many other
reformers have done.


82 Florence

For by-and-by the greater part of the people grew
tired of being preached at, and of always being told to
lead strict lives, and fell back into their old ways, and
wished the Prior of San Marco would hold his tongue.
Then the Pope, Alexander VI. whose real name was
Roderigo Borgio, who was, perhaps, the most wicked
man that had ever filled that office became tired of
Savonarola's words of warning, because he preached
against things which were very wrong, but which both
the Pope and the clergy allowed themselves to do, and
he tried to stop him by offering to make him a Cardinal.

Savonarola refused the bribe, and went on with his
sermons. Then the Pope excommunicated him, and for-
bade him to preach. The Prior obeyed the order for
six months ; then, as he watched the terrible wickedness
which was going on unrebuked in the Church, as well
as in the outside world, he could no longer forbear.
He began to preach again. And now he boldly de-
nounced the Pope, and said that, instead of being "called
by the Holy Ghost " to his office, he had bought it, just
as he might have bought some worldly business, which
was quite true. Naturally, this made the Pope very
angry indeed, and the end soon came.

Savonarola and two of his monks were arrested in San
Marco one April evening in the year 1498, and dragged
to the Palazzo Vecchio, where they were cruelly tortured,
in the vain hope that the Prior would unsay his words,
and that his followers would agree with him. After
that, they were imprisoned for more than a month in
the Palace ; we can see the little cell which Savonarola
occupied, far up in the tower. Then, on May I9th,
messengers from Rome arrived, carrying the death-sen-
tence with them. Once more the three brave men were

Its Martyr 83

put to torture, in the hope of wringing a denial from
them, but with no better result, and on the night of
May 22nd they were told to prepare to die.

The news came as a relief, for their poor limbs had
been racked and twisted until they were quite out of
shape, and they must have been suffering agonies. If
we go into the great hall of the Palazzo, which is so
magnificent with its gilt and painted ceiling, its frescoed
walls, and its polished floor, we shall see where the three
friends passed their last night on earth, each in his
separate corner, for they were not allowed to be together.

Next morning they went up to the little Chapel of
San Bernardo, on the floor above, a tiny place, but
with walls covered with beautifully painted frescoes by
the famous artist, Ghirlandajo. Here Savonarola
celebrated the Holy Communion, of which they par-
took, and very soon afterwards they were led out into
the Piazza, or Square, in front of the Palace, to die.
We can see the exact spot. It is marked by a stone in
the pavement a little way out from the right-hand
corner of the building.

Before their execution their gowns were stripped off
them, as a sign that the Church had cast them out.
The Bishop who performed this office for Savonarola
was empowered to say : " I separate thee from the
Church Militant," but, confused and nervous, he added,
" and from the Church Triumphant."

" Nay," replied Savonarola and we can fancy how
his voice would ring out in spite of his weakness
" from the Church Militant, but not from the Church
Triumphant. Thou hast no power to do that."

So the three friends passed to the Church Trium-
phant, or at least to the Church Expectant, chanting the

84 Florence

Te\Deum, and [repeating the Creed. And we are thankful
to remember that their death was a swift one, for they
were mercifully hanged before they were burned.

Four hundred years have passed since then, and all
Christendom knows now even the Church that cast
him out what a deadly error was committed on that
May morning. Had they listened to his words, had
they accepted his reforms, the city of Florence and the
Church of Rome would have been spared many troubles
that afterwards fell upon them.

They saw their mistake when it was too late, but at
least they owned it, and the life-sized statue of the
martyr, carved in white marble, which now stands at
the end of the hall where he slept his last earthly sleep,
is a proof of the love and esteem with which his
country looks back on his memory.



ALTHOUGH the squares in Florence are more like paved
market-places than anything else, and have not gardens
in the centre, as so many of our squares have at home,
there is no lack of gardens and open spaces outside the
walls, where the citizens can enjoy country walks, or
go for shade during the long, hot days of summer.
First of all, there is Fiesole, which just looks like a
tiny village, but which is really a Cathedral town, perched
upon its hill-top, about two and a half miles distant.
It hardly seems so far away, for the suburbs of the city
stretch to the foot of the hill, which is covered wfth
beautiful villas, standing in gardens, while a tramway
takes us up to the top in a very short time.

Its Surroundings and Fcstas 85

On the other side of the valley is another hill, San
Miniato, which is also covered with houses, and gardens,
and shady walks, and there the car takes us to a level
piece of ground, with plenty of seats, which is known
as the Piazza Michel Angelo, because it was here that
the great sculptor erected his fortifications, and from
which we have a magnificent view of the city.

Just below San Miniato are the Boboli Gardens, so
called because an old family named Boboli once built
a villa on part of the ground which they now occupy.
This ground was very rocky, and when the Pitti Palace
came to be erected, the stone for the building was taken
from it. Of course this made a series of big quarries, and
it is in these quarries that the gardens have been laid out,
and, as the nooks and corners are naturally very sheltered,
all sorts of tropical plants grow here, which make the
grounds exceedingly beautiful as well as interesting.

Farther down the Arno, to the west of the city, is
the great Cascine, or Public Park. This is a delightful
place, especially for family picnics. For it is almost
entirely covered by great trees, just like a thick forest,
through which little paths run, and two broad carriage-
drives. One of these is shady, and is a popular resort
for people who own carriages, in the heat of summer,
while the other, which runs along the banks ot the
Arno, is warm and sunny, and is a favourite promenade
for everyone in the cold winter days.

It is not all wooded, however, for here aiui there
the trees open out and show shady little meadows,
just like those we find in Switzerland, where the grass
grows quite long and thick, an uncommon thing in
Italy. Here parties of holiday-makers can go and
spend the livelong day, the elders resting under the

86 Florence

trees, and the children enjoying themselves in the

On Ascension Day a very pretty Festa, or Fete, is
held in the Cascine. This is the " Giorno dei Grilli,"
the Festival of the Crickets insects very much like
grass-hoppers. All the children get up early on that
day, go into the Park and catch these tiny creatures, and
put them in little cages made of wire, just like bird-
cages, only much smaller. Then they carry them home,
or take them as presents to their friends, and if the
grillo chirps lustily when it is taken indoors, it means
good luck to the house and all its inmates during the
coming year.

Another interesting Festa is on Easter Even, when
a great crowd assembles in front of the Duomo to see
a number of fireworks set alight by a dove of fire,
which seems to fly from the high-altar down the
church and through the open door. Of course, the
creature is of metal, and is drawn along a wire, and is

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Online LibraryElizabeth Wilson GriersonFlorence → online text (page 6 of 7)