The Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola was born in Ferrara in 1452.
He began to preach against the corruption of morals and of the clergy in 1482 in the convent of San Marco in Florence. His aggresive and passionate style granted him a large following.
After Charles VIII (King of France) moved into Italy, the Florentines drove the Medici from the city in 1494, and Savonarola was commissioned to organize the Republic.
With the end of the rule of the Medici, Savonarola was worried that old rivalry between factions and between families would be rekindled in Florence.
Accordingly, he intensified his preaching in the name of harmony and against the desire for revenge.
His sermons warned of the divine Revelation and severe punishment for the city of Florence and ltaly if they refused to be converted.
He decreed the death penalty on anyone who wanted to restore the “tyranny” and took stringent measures against corruption, usury, sophistication and luxury.
He imposed laws against gambling and public holidays, while instituting others on penance and religious observance.
Wishing that he and his brothers makeup an effective mendicant order devoid of material goods, he began to selling the possessions of monasteries and personal belongings of the monks, distributing the proceeds to the poor.
Savonarola inspired much of the political reforms of this period, and due to his influcence, the political heart of Florence moved to the convent of San Marco.
On the night of April 5, 1492, lightning damaged the lantern of the Duomo, which many Florentines interpreted as a bad omen.
Three days later, Lorenzo de’ Medici died in his villa at Careggi, comforted by the requested blessing of Savonarola.
The new Constitution of the Florentine Republic was approved on Christmas Eve of 1494.
At the behest of Savonarola, construction of the bigger Hall of the Council in the Palazzo Vecchio began in 1495.
On August 20, 1496, the first official meeting of the Republic was held in this room (then known as the Hall of the Five Hundred), with Savonarola giving the opening speech.
On the walls of the room, a few admonishing sentences from the Holy Scriptures were inscribed.
The atmosphere in Florence was so tense that during the Catholic feast of the Ascension, a group of opponents of the monk desecrated the altar of Santa Maria del Fiore, where Savonarola was to celebrate mass, covering it with animal skin and dung.
Although Savonarola was excommunicated by the Pope in 1497, he continued to campaign even more fervently against the vices of the Catholic Church, thereby bringing him an increasing number of enemies.
In Florence, even those who had supported the monk against the Medici now began to oppose him because they feared that he would transform the city into a monastery.
At that time, Italy was divided between supporters of King Charles VIII of France, who was seizing many territories, and his opponents. By the will of Savonarola, Florence supported Charles VIII.
In Florence and throughout Italy, Savonarola’s enemies were quickly growing in number, who urged that Florence rebell against the power of Savonarola and join the League against the French.
Savonarola’s popularity was now waning, in contrast to the resurgent party of the Medici who, in 1498, had him arrested, tried, and sentenced to death.
One fateful evening, the convent of San Marco was attacked, and Savonarola was captured and imprisoned in the Tower of Arnolfo.
On May 25, 1498, he was burned as a heretic in the Piazza della Signoria. This act ended the Florentine Republic.
Simone Filipepi, the brother of Botticelli, has left a detailed description of the execution of Savonarola.
Savonarola’s sentence was motivated primarily by political reasons: Florence blamed him for the political situation and hoped to restore an alliance with France and the Vatican.
Despite his condemnation, many Florentines were present to gather his remains as relics. The ashes of Savonarola and his companions were thrown into the Arno. He would be venerated for centuries.
Today, there is a circular plaque in the Piazza della Signoria commemorating the exact location where he was hanged and burned. The red granite stone bears an inscription in bronze characters.
The writings of Savonarola (many sermons and some treatises) were rehabilitated by the Catholic Church in the following centuries and taken into account in important theological treatises.
The case for his beatification was taken up on May 30, 1997, by the Archdiocese of Florence.