Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Basilica di Santa Croce: “Temple of the Italian Glories”

Italy has countless amazing cathedrals and churches, but the one that most intrigues me is the Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross) in Florence. Why? Because it’s the final resting place and memorial to some of the biggest names in Italian history. For this reason, it has been given the nickname of “Temple of the Italian Glories.”

The basilica houses both tombs and cenotaphs, "empty tombs" or monuments erected in honor of those whose remains are elsewhere. Some of the most famous of these found in the perimeters of the basilica are Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Rossini, Galileo, Dante, Marconi and Fermi. 

In addition, the floor of the basilica is paved with 276 tombstones of notable and wealthy Italians and clergy, so watch where you step. (Tombs/Cenotaphs in the Basilica di Santa Croce.)

Michelangelo’s tomb was designed by the artist and biographer Giorgio Vasari in 1570 and executed with the work of various artists. It’s adorned by three grieving statues representing Michelangelo’s most salient talents: On the left “Sculpture” by Cioli, in the center “Painting” by Lorenzi, and on the right “Architecture” by Bandini. The bust of Michelangelo on the casket is by Lorenzi. The fresco above the casket is of the Deposition from the Cross by Naldini. The great master’s tomb is so beautiful that it served as a model for the others that came after.

Galileo’s tomb is in the Baroque style and shows a bust of Galileo flanked by figures representing “Geometry” and “Astronomy.” Galileo’s student, Vincenzo Viviani, so much admired his mentor that he requested to be buried with Galileo upon his death. His wish was granted, so Galileo’s tomb also includes Viviani’s remains. A third corpse also resides in the tomb and is believed to be the remains of Galileo’s daughter, Maria Celeste. Needless to say, the casket is a bit crowded inside.

The tomb of Italy’s most illustrious poet, Dante Alighieri, is actually a cenotaph since his remains are interred elsewhere. The cenotaph is a memorial to this man known as “The Supreme Poet.” 

Due to his exile from Florence for political reasons, Dante’s remains are in a small mausoleum in the coastal town of Ravenna, Italy. Florence eventually regretted having exiled Dante and requested his remains be returned to Florence, his birthplace. The custodians of Dante’s body in Ravenna refused.

The Basilica di Santa Croce is the largest Franciscan church in the world and houses some of Florence’s most beautiful works of art. The work of greats such as Giotto, Donatello, Brunelleschi, Gaddi and Da Maiano are only a few and include not only the basilica’s structure, but also frescoes, paintings and statues... and of course, the beautiful tombs and cenotaphs within.

The history of the basilica and the stories behind the tombs and cenotaphs would take far more than a mere cappuccino minute. This has been just a taste – a sip – a tease of information about this marvelous basilica and what it holds inside. Click HERE for more information – OR – better yet, hop on a plane and visit the Basilica di Santa Croce for yourself. Just be sure to allow plenty of time to enjoy and explore every bit of the treasures within.

- Nina Spitzer

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