Girolamo Savonarola

Girolamo Savonarola

Florentine religious and political figure
Date of Birth: 21.09.1452
Country: Italy

Biography of Girolamo Savonarola

Girolamo Savonarola was an Italian monk and reformer, born on September 21, 1452, in Ferrara. He received a humanistic education, studied medicine, and had a passion for theology. In his youth poems, Savonarola already expressed his concern about the moral decay of the era and the corruption of the Church.

In 1474, after attending a sermon in Faenza, Savonarola made the decision to dedicate his life to religious pursuits. In April 1475, he entered the Dominican monastery in Bologna. After completing his education there and in Ferrara, he was transferred to the San Marco monastery in Florence in 1482.

His initial public sermons in Florence did not have much success, but Savonarola changed his style and managed to captivate his audience while preaching in the small town of San Gimignano in 1485-1486. He taught in Bologna in 1487 and was in Ferrara in 1488-1489, making preaching trips to Brescia and other Lombard cities.

In 1490, at the request of philosopher and scholar Pico della Mirandola, Savonarola was summoned to Florence by Lorenzo de' Medici. Soon after his arrival, he delivered several fiery sermons, predicting disasters, calamities, and condemning the immorality in Florence and the Church, including criticism of Lorenzo. Despite warnings, he did not refrain from his criticism.

In July 1491, Savonarola was elected prior of the San Marco monastery and demonstrated his independence by refusing to pay homage to Lorenzo de' Medici, whose family had funded the monastery. On April 5, 1492, Savonarola experienced his famous vision of the hanging sword of divine justice with the words, "Ecce gladius Domini super terram cito et velociter" ("Behold, the sword of the Lord is called to the earth swiftly and speedily"). He used this vision in his preaching. A few days later, Lorenzo died.

Savonarola continued his preaching and began reforming the San Marco monastery. In 1493, he achieved its independence from the Lombard congregation and established a new Tuscan congregation centered in San Marco. In 1492, Rodrigo Borgia became Pope Alexander VI. The threat of French intervention, caused by a request from Lodovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, seemed to confirm Savonarola's prophecies.

The people of Florence, fearing the destructive consequences of Piero's tyrannical policies, turned to Savonarola, who played a significant role in negotiations with the French King Charles VIII during his stay in Florence in November 1494. Losing his influence, Piero fled, leaving Florence without a government after the 60-year rule of the Medici family. Chaos ensued in the city, but in this dangerous situation, Savonarola called for reconciliation and prophesied that the renewed Florence would become an example for all of Italy.

He managed to have a republican constitution, modeled after Venice, adopted and implemented new laws against gambling, sodomy, and murder. Under his influence, a bloodless revolution took place in Florence. The new Florence was envisioned as a city of God, with Jesus Christ proclaimed as its head. Prominent citizens and scholars dressed in Dominican robes, internal conflicts subsided, and gangs of unruly young men transformed into a sacred militia. Inspired by this spirit, the citizens abstained from traditional feasts and instead celebrated a religious carnival in 1496. In 1497, they carried out an even more impressive burning of secular books, paintings, clothing, playing cards, and more.

However, these transformations earned Savonarola numerous enemies in Florence. These enemies managed to reinstate a hostile pope, who was shaken by Savonarola's terrifying prophecies and sharp criticisms of false shepherds and scandalous behavior within the Vatican. Unable to tempt Savonarola with a cardinal's hat, the pope invited him to Rome in 1495.

In response to the pope's second letter, which accused him of false prophecies and banned him from preaching, Savonarola replied but continued to preach until the pope's third letter compelled him to silence. After a brief hiatus, he resumed his rebukes and, in a sermon on the Book of Amos, launched furious accusations against the pope and Rome. His position in the city and beyond became precarious in early 1497.

Florence became divided between supporters of Savonarola (known as "piagnoni" or weepers) and his opponents (known as "arrabbiatti" or enraged). In March, Medici agents provoked riots, and in May, the pope excommunicated Savonarola. The failure of Piero's attempt to return to the city and the election of a pro-Savonarola government saved his reputation and allowed him to ignore the ban on preaching.

In February 1498, Pope Alexander VI's patience ran out. He called on the government to silence the rebellious monk, but the city authorities refused to comply. Savonarola once again defied the Church by writing a letter to the rulers, urging them to convene a council for reform. The end was hastened by a strange event. Fra Domenico, a fervent supporter of Savonarola, accepted a challenge from a Franciscan monk who proposed to test the truth of Savonarola's teachings through a trial by fire. On the appointed day, April 7, crowds gathered in the Piazza della Signoria to witness God's judgment. However, the Franciscan who issued the challenge did not show up. Disappointed spectators turned their anger against Savonarola.

The next day, enraged mobs surrounded the San Marco monastery, and Savonarola and his closest associates were arrested on the orders of the new, hostile government. The pope's demand to deliver Savonarola to Rome was not fulfilled. A "trial" was carried out by extracting confessions through torture. On May 22, 1498, Savonarola, Fra Domenico, and Fra Silvestro were sentenced to death. The following day, they were hanged, and their bodies were burned.