Finding three things to see in Santa Croce is like looking through a treasure box. No matter what I end up choosing, every aspect of the church is a jewel in its own right. So when I walked into the Basilica last week, I made sure to keep my eyes wide open, trying to find things that stood out to me. Of course at first, I was drawn to the “big ticket” items. Galileo Galilei’s tomb, the monument to Dante and Niccolini’s tomb are all incredibly impressive; but I wanted to explore further.
I was drawn to the Tomb of Vittorio Alfieri. It is difficult to describe something in such a vacant space as secluded; but for some reason, this word comes to mind when looking at the Alfieri tomb. I think that this is because it is hidden behind a column, and therefore people might miss it. Now, I know that I mentioned the tomb of Alfieri in the last post; but at that point, I did not know anything about Alfieri as a person. Yes, I could appreciate the weeping woman who signified Italy, but I knew nothing about Alfieri: the man. Alfieri is a wonderful symbol for Italy. He wanted a free and united Italy and used his talents as a playwright and a poet as a political tool. One of the things that Alfieri was particularly fascinated with was American independence. He respected the ideals of this new country and even wrote 5 odes to American Independence. Here is an excerpt from his second ode:
Who could not feel the immense joy
Over the news of the far-off sails
Appearing over the horizon
Just as the sun was setting?
Tell me, is it the enemy’s fleet
Sailing full wind ahead?
No! They are the friends,
And the captain is the clue
Along the shores men and women gather
Amidst festivities and cries of joy.
Some look in silent mirth,
Wiping tears from their faces
And pressing their hands on their hearts
As though life had been regained;
Others kneel on the ground to pray.
Alfieri was a visionary, and Italy wept when he died. His tomb is simple and beautiful; a perfect place to pause for reflection, and maybe for some creative inspiration.
One thing that people may not realize before walking into Santa Croce is that many of the tombs are located below their feet. These tombs may be smaller in scale than the monuments in honor of Italy’s most famous, but they are still very interesting. When I was talking to Ms. Grossoni, she pointed out a particularly amusing one. In the short corridor between the main chapel and the smaller Medici chapel, there is the tomb with the engraving “Non calpestarmi.” This roughly translates to “Don’t tread on me.” Traditionally, people with tombs in the floor are meant to be humble. Their humility is represented in their willingness to allow people to walk on their tombs. This one man must have been the exception to the rule. I appreciate the fact that even a beautiful and sacred place like Santa Croce can have its quirks. This tomb is a bit difficult to find, but definitely an interesting thing to see.
As I have said before, one of my favorite things about Santa Croce is the fact that it seems like a timeline of Florentine history. This is represented by many aspects of the church, but especially in the Crucifix by Cimabue. This crucifix was inside of the church from around 1280 until the flood of 1966. It had been damaged in the 1333 and 1557 floods; however, the 1966 flood destroyed a majority of the cross’s paint. In fact, Pope Paul VI stated that the Crucifix was the “most illustrious victim” of the flood. After a 10-year long restoration, the cross was ready to be displayed again in 1976. Now it is located in the Museo dell’Opera di Santa Croce, and is a testament to the passion and dedication of the people who work for the Opera di Santa Croce. It is also a beacon of hope; even in the toughest times, the Santa Croce will always maintain its place as a religious and historical center in Florence.
These are my suggestions, but the treasure box of Santa Croce has so much more to offer. I do not think it is an overstatement to say that there is something for everyone in Santa Croce, be it a particular tomb, the Brunelleschi-designed Pazzi Chapel, or a plant in the cloister.
Blogger Emily Daubert is an Undergraduate student at Johns Hopkins University, currently studying abroad at Syracuse University in Florence. She is a Creative Writing major who is passionate about metaphors, similes and enjambment.