Sunday, January 22, 2012

La Basilica di Santa Croce

Florence, and all of Italy, is filled with beautiful churches.  The most beautiful church in Florence, in my opinion, is La Basilica di Santa Croce.  The construction of this magnificent house of worship began in 1294, probably by the architect Arnolfo di Cambio, and was built on the site of a smaller church built by the Franciscans about 40 years prior.  The exterior marble facade of the church was built between 1853-1863 by Niccolo Matas.  One thing you may notice right away upon looking at the church is that there is a Star of David inserted into the center gable of the facade.  It may seem a bit strange to see on a Catholic church, however, the placement of this symbol is understood to be a nod to the Jewish religion, of which Matas practiced.

The robe and a segment of the belt worn by St. Francis of Assisi 

The entrance to the church is on the left side, under an arched portico.  The ticket counter is there and you will pay 5 euro to gain entrance (as an adult.  4 euro for children 11-17.  Children under 10 and under are free with paying adult.).  There is a separate entrance for people who wish to enter for prayer and/or confession.  This separate entrance (which is free) leads to a couple of small side chapels, which are gated off from the rest of the church. 

View of the main altar, surrounded by scaffolding
The soaring gothic interior of the nave is impressive.  The main chapel area, around the altar, currently is being restored, so there is a lot of scaffolding that prevents views of that area, but the rest of the church is, thankfully, scaffolding free (at least as of December 2011).

Santa Croce is probably most famous for being the final resting place for many famous Italians.  As you walk along the side aisles of the nave, you will encounter the monuments of some extremely famous people that I know you read about in school.  People such as...

...Galileo Galilei...

...Michelangelo Buonarroti...

...Dante Alighieri....

...Niccolo Machiavelli...

...and Gioachino Rossini (composer of "The Barber of Seville" and "William Tell").

There are many, many other tombs and memorials along the aisles of the church, and there are 200 tombs in the floor of the church.  The oldest of the floor tombs consist simply of a marble slab laid on the floor.  They were designed to be destined to be trampled upon, which symbolizes the return to the earth of all men.  Some, however, are no longer trod upon, since they are cordoned off so as to protect the grave from damage and/or from people tripping over some of the more ornate graves.

What I found fascinating was how old some of those graves are.  One of the oldest dates from 1348 (Biordo Ubertini).  I didn't get a photo of that one, but here's one from 1424: 

You will definitely need a lot of time to walk through Santa Croce.  Every little nook & cranny has something to see.  The many chapels hold beautiful works of art, relics and gorgeous windows.

There is much more to see at Santa Croce than just the church.  There is a museum, housed in what was the monastery that contains many works of art from the church, including paintings, windows and a model of the bell tower.  There are a couple of cloisters on the grounds as well, which are nice quiet places to sit or stroll for awhile.  All of these areas are included in the price of admission.

View of the bell tower from one of the cloisters

Underneath the church is a basement of sorts that used to be a crypt, originally built as a burial site.  Today, it is a memorial chapel, honoring the Florentines who gave their lives in World War I.  The area is quite different from the rest of the church.  The arched ceiling is painted a stark white color and the walls are completely covered with large, black marble slabs, which are engraved with the name of each  of the 3672 men who died in that war. 

Santa Croce is a must-see when you are in Florence.  Allow yourself a couple hours to walk through all of the areas of the church.  As I said before, there is so much detail to be seen.  Frescos, stained glass windows, statuary, paintings, monuments, want to take your time there and not be rushed.  I ended up taking 150 photos while I was there (yep, cameras are allowed, but flash is not permitted) and I could have easily taken 150 more.  

Please remember, when you do visit, that this is a church.  They, like most churches in Italy, require proper attire within the church.  That means shoulders should be covered, ladies!  Some tourists who come in the summer may be wearing tank-tops.  If they don't have a shawl or jacket to cover their shoulders, before entering Santa Croce, they will be given a paper cape to wear.  Some folks may scoff at this, but remember, this is first and foremost a place of worship.  You may be allowed to wear shorts & tank tops at your church in the US, but that is not the culture of Italy.  Recall the phrase "when in Rome, do as the Romans do".  Don't complain, just do it and enjoy the beauty!

No comments:

Post a Comment