Santa Croce and the Flood of 1966 – a Fearful Chronicle

Mineral water sales boomed. People shaved in it, washed in it, cleaned sculptures with it and tried it as a rust-remover for cars. Some even drunk it. — The Sunday Times Magazine, December 11, 1966

ImageIn eight centuries, more than fifty significant floods have left their mark on the Santa Croce complex. Due to its vicinity to the Arno river, the church, its numerous artworks and archives have been damaged, sometimes beyond repair. The last flood, of November 4, 1966, was the most devastating. The Arno rose to 2.7 meters (8.86 feet) inside the church.

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The Sunday Times Magazine published on December 11, 1966 printed the following account of the post-flood situation in Santa Croce: “The casualty list from St. Croce is a fearful chronicle. It includes Domenico Veneziano’s John the Baptist and St. Francis […] Other casualties are the world famous Crucifix by Cimabue and altarpieces by Bronzino, Vasari, Portelli and Cigoli, while the foundations of the great church have been seriously weakened by the effects of the water in the basements. […] The nave of the St. Croce Church was nine feet deep in mud, oil and water […] The high altar and the Giotto frescoes nearby are untouched, as are the 13th century choral missals in the Sacristy and the Franciscan relics. The bottom four feet of the nave altar pieces, by Vasari and his circle, are badly damaged.”

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Major U.S. publications such as Time and LIFE magazines dedicated special issues to the flood in Florence. As a result of this coverage and a desire by their readership to help, a special committee was formed to save Florentine art. Chaired by Jacqueline Kennedy, the Committee to Rescue Italian Art (CRIA) was able to raise more than $250,000 in just one month. Most of those funds was used for the restoration of frescoes. LIFE. “Heroic Job of Rescuing a Great Heritage,” December 16, 1966.

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Flood markers, showing the most devastating floods of last six centuries, are located to the right of the entrance to Pietro Parigi museum: in 1557 water reached 4.53m (14.86 ft), in 1844 – 2.01m (6.59 ft) followed by a shocking 4.92 m (16.14 ft) in 1966.

In the preparations for the 50th Anniversary in 2016, a Memorial of the Flood was inaugurated today in Santa Croce. It is located in the Chiostro Antico, next to Pietro Parigi museum and accessible with the general ticket to Santa Croce monumental complex.

For a short documentary of Piazza Santa Croce on November 4th, 1966, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1KY1irgXSc

Photo credits unknown.


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