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‘Society’ in Eighteenth-Century Florence 31/03/2011

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c. 1800 though relating to the late eighteenth century

Society seems to be on an easy and agreeable footing in Florence. Besides the conversaziones which they have here as in other towns of Italy, a number of the nobility meet every day at a house called the Casino. This society is pretty much on the same footing witli the clubs in London. They meet at no particular hour. They play at billiards, cards, and other games, or continue conversing the whole evening. They are served with tea, coffee, lemonade, ices, or what other refreshment they choose. Women as well as men are members of this club.

The opera at Florence is a place where the people of quality pay and receive visits, and converse as freely as at the Casino above mentioned. On the evenings on which there is no opera, it is usual for the genteel company to drive to a public walk immediately without the city, where they remain till it begins to grow duskish.  

The Jews are not held in that degree of odium, or subjected to the same humiliating distinctions here in Florence, as in some other cities in Europe. Some of the richest merchants are of that religion.

Savonarola Leads a Procession 31/01/2011

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The procession took place in 1496 and is reported here from Burlamacchi’s Life of Savonarola

First having heard Mass, all communicated, and with palms in their hands went to the sermon in the cathedral, at which the children assembled in such multitudes that they occupied that morning all the four parts of the galleries (round the walls). When it was over they all went to the church of the Annunziata, from there they set out and went to the door of the first cloister of St. Mark’s; entering through the cloister they came to the church, where they gave to each a red cross. Leaving St. Mark’s, they went by the Via Larga to St. John’s, where they went in, in pairs, grouped according to their quarters in the town. The procession was followed humbly and devotedly by the bearers of the tabernacle, whereon was painted the Saviour, seated on the ass and surrounded by many people, who strewed their garments on the ground, and it seemed as if they sang in a loud voice, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’. Facing it there was a painting of a Virgin of marvellous beauty with the crown which was presented to her by the Father [Savonarola] when he went as ambassador [to the King of France], and the crown was borne up by angels.

After the tabernacle came many pairs of children in the guise of most beautiful angels, who seemed to have come out of Paradise. There were eight thousand of them, and it was a marvellous thing, taking into account their order, the distance they walked, their silence. Thus they marched, singing psalms with great fervour and spirit and saying the office. Many of them carried dishes in their hands in which to receive alms for the Monte de Pietà (Public Loan Offices).

After the children walked in order the monks, and then the clergy, followed by a large number of men (seculars), with the red crosses and an olive-branch in their hands. Then came the girls dressed in white with garlands on their heads, and at the end all the women. So great was the zeal that day that not only children and women, but even grave and noble men, full of wisdom and prudence, forgetting this worldly wisdom, robed themselves in white like the children, and danced and sang before the tabernacle of the Saviour as did David before the Ark. Despising the world’s pomps, they held the olive-branches and red crosses in their hands, and they shouted ceaselessly, in high voices like the children, ‘Long live Christ, our King’. And there was such joy in their hearts that it seemed as if the glory of Paradise had descended to earth; and many tears of joy and devotion were shed.

They came in this manner to the Piazza di Signoria, where they sang some verses in honour of the day by Girolamo Benevieni, one of which begins: ‘Live long in our hearts, long live Fiorenza’. And from the piazza (square), still singing and rejoicing, they went round the city, coming at last to the cathedral church of St. Mary of the Flowers. They entered and offered to God their hearts and spirits, committing to Him the city, and offering all the alms, which they had received in large quantities for the Monte di Pietà. Not only were the children’s dishes full of money, rings, jewels, and other precious things, but also many other dishes, which were placed on an altar of marvellous grandeur, which stood under the cupola of the church, where there was much valuable clothing and a large quantity of gold and silver. With this money there were established four Monte di Pietà, one for each quarter of the city. This was the means of turning out the Jews who lent money on usury in the city. When these offerings and thanksgiving to God had been made, they returned to the Piazza of St. Mark, where all the monks came out of the convent without hoods and wearing the alb and crowned with garlands. They formed a round dance through the square, singing psalms, thinking nothing of appearances, and the sweetness of their singing caused everyone to dissolve into tears of happiness. And afterwards all went home much edified. It was in truth a wonderful day, full of joy and exultation, during which everyone seemed almost driven mad by love for Christ, and Florence was by this mystery become a new Jerusalem.