By Maria Alambritis

On May 23rd, Florentines celebrate ‘La Fiorita’, a commemoration of the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola who was burned on this day in 1498 in Piazza della Signoria.

Renowned for strict preaching and calls for Christian reform, he began to gain a following while lecturing at the convent of San Marco in 1482 and at San Gimignano during Lent of 1485 and 1486 announced his vision that the church needed cleansing from corruption. Returning to Florence, he became the enemy of Lorenzo de’ Medici and the clergy against whom he preached, and after the overthrow of the Medici in 1494, became the leader of Florence. 

Savonarola’s introduction of a successful democratic government in Florence and rising reputation drew jealousy from powerful figures such as the Duke of Milan and the Pope. In 1497, his ordering of the infamous ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’ affirmed Savonarola’s popularity, when the people and artisans of Florence brought objects considered ‘sinful’, such as mirrors, cosmetics, luxury items and even paintings and ‘immoral’ books to be burned in the Piazza della Signoria.

Increasing pressure from his detractors calling for Savonarola’s excommunication led to an eventual trial and, after examination by his enemies and torture, he was found guilty of heresy and burned at the stake in the piazza. 

In order to prevent his followers from making relics, Savonarola’s ashes were scattered in the Arno. That night, his followers placed flowers on the place where the friar was burned, giving the name of ‘La Fiorita’ to his commemoration. 

Every year on the 23rd of May, a service is held in the Cappella dei Priori of Palazzo Vecchio, followed by a historical costume parade to the arno, where petals are strewn in the river.

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