The Badìa Fiorentina is an abbey and church that is now home to the Monastic Communities of Jerusalem. It is situated on the Via del Proconsolo in the centre of Florence. It is also in front of the ancient prison of the Bargello, next to the street that houses the now-called Casa di Dante, which was rebuilt in 1910 as a museum to Dante.
Badia in ancient Italian meant abbey, and Fiorentina just means Florentine.
Before the Badia Fiorentina was built, another church called St. Stephen’s Church or Chiesa del Popolo (People’s Church) was in its place.
The badia or abbey, dedicated to the Virgin, was founded in 978 by Willa, Marchioness of Tuscany, in commemoration of her late husband Hubert, and assigned to the Cassinese Benedictines.
It was one of the chief buildings of medieval Florence.
Willa gave the monks who settled there money and privileges.
In those ancient times, the presence of Benedictine monks in Florence made a deep impression, because the friars normally lived far from urban centers.
When Willa’s son Hugh the Great (Ugo di Toscana) became Margrave of Tuscany, he considerably augmented his mother’s benefactions with many donations to the abbey.
In the Badia Fiorentina, where he is buried, his memory was kept alive over the centuries through ceremonies and learned writings.
A Mass is still conducted for the repose of his soul every 21 December.
This noble benefactor was mentioned by Dante in his The Divine Comedy:
Each one, who bears the sightly quarterings
Of the great Baron (he whose name and worth
The festival of Thomas still revives)
His knighthood and his privilege retain’d
(Paradiso, Canto XVI, 127–130)
In Badia Fiorentina, his memory is also preserved by the beautiful statue by Mino da Fiesole, the coat of arms of the Margraviate of Tuscany, with red and white vertical stripes placed both above the arch of the high altar and on the facade, along with some wooden furniture.
Today the Badia is home to a congregation of monks and nuns known as the Fraternita’ di Gerusalemme. They sing vespers at 6 p.m. and mass at 6:30 p.m. every day. Locals and tourists alike claim that attending Vespers or Mass has been one of their most beautiful experiences in Florence.
Legend has it that Dante saw Beatrice for the first time in this church
Dan Brown’s thrilling Inferno begins in this abbey: the mysterious shadow that accompanies the protagonist throughout the book throws itself from the famous Badia Fiorentina bell tower.
The original abbey stood at the edge of the first city walls and faced a different direction than the present building, with its façade to the west and three apses to the east.
Thanks to substantial donations and privileges accorded by popes and emperors, the abbey acquired or inherited a number of the surrounding properties.
Here the monks engaged in bookish activities (paper-making, illuminating, binding), which, together with the preparation of parchment inside the abbey, helped to stamp the entire area as a centre of book production.
The priors and magistrates of the Republic used to meet in the Badia Fiorentina before the construction of the Palazzo Vecchio.
In 1285 Arnolfo di Cambio was commissioned to restructure the Badia, maintaining the axis of the pre-existing romanesque church, which was enlarged. The external stone wall of the apse still flanks Via Proconsolo, and the upper portion of the gothic façade, with its tympanum and rose window, can be seen from the courtyard of the Pretura.
The slender belfry was chopped down by the Signoria in 1307 to punish the monks for refusing to pay a certain tax, but was built up again in 1330.
In later times the Benedictine witnessed periods of decadence alternate with periods of great splendour.
In the 15th century, the Badia became a centre of humanism sustained by the Portuguese abbot Ferreira de Silva.
Early in the 16th century, Giovan Battista Pandolfini commissioned Benedetto da Rovezzano to rebuild the part of the monastery on the corner between Via del Consolo and the present Via Dante Alighieri: thus the Pandolfini Chapel and the entrance portico were completed.
The Sienese Serafino Casolani, who became abbot in 1624, took it upon himself to completely transform Arnolfo’s church and probably proposed the design to the architect Matteo Segaloni, who began work in 1627.
The church was given the plan of a Greek Cross.
When the monastery was suppressed in 1810, the complex was broken up into houses, shops, offices, and store rooms.
The interior of the church, further altered in the 18th century, contains a mixture of styles. It is dominated by an elaborate carved wooden ceiling, made in 1631 by Felice Gamberai, that conceals the gothic open timber roof. The presbytery, with its 16th-century choir by Francesco and Marco Del Tasso, has some remarkable frescoes (1734) by Gian Domenico Ferretti and the quadraturista Pietro Anderlini.
To the left of the entrance is the church’s greatest masterpiece: the altarpiece showing the Virgin appearing to St. Bernard, painted by Filippino Lippi between 1482 and 1486 for Piero di Francesco del Pugliese.
The painting was moved here from Marignolle in 1530 to save it from destruction during the siege.
Among the funerary monuments, the most important date to the 15th-century: the tomb of Giannozzo Pandolfini (died 1456), from the workshop of Bernardo Rossellino; the tomb of Bernardo Giugni, by Mino da Fiesole; and above all, also by Mino, the tomb of the Margrave Ugo of Tuscany (1466-81), in marble and porphyry, surmounted by a personification of Charity.
Mino da Fiesole also carved the Neroni Dossal depicting the Madonna and Child between St. Leonard and St. Laurence.
Despite the alterations that it has suffered in recent centuries, the Badia has managed to preserve the delightful Cloister of the Oranges, built between 1432 and 1438 with the assistance of Bernardo Rossellino.
In the upper floor of the cloister is a fresco cycle of Scenes from the life of St. Benedict by the anonymous Maestro del Chiostro degli Aranci (1436-39), who is perhaps to be identified with the Portuguese artist Giovanni di Consalvo.
The painting Badia Polyptych by Giotto, now at the Uffizi Gallery, was originally located in the church.
This post was originally published on May 29, 2013, and has been updated and enriched on June 14, 2018.