Page images

was an ancient and perpetual feud; the Dominicans of old had scoffed at the preaching and the wonders of the famous Franciscan John of Vicenza. Either from some incautious words of Savonarola himself, that he would go through the fire to attest the truth of his prophetic gifts, or from some rash defiance of his followers, or from the no less blind fanaticism of incredulity in the Franciscans as to the inspiration of a Dominican friar, mutual provocations and challenges had passed, two years before, between the two Orders, thus to submit the momentous question to the judgment of God. This was no new ordeal: there was a famous instance of such a trial in the near neighbourhood of Florence, when the great debate on the celibacy of the clergy was actually submitted to the ordeal of fire, and the Monks of Vallombrosa triumphed over the gentle and holy Archbishop of Florence. It is said that Savonarola proposed other miraculous tests, that the two parties should ascend some height, each with the Host in his hands, and implore the Almighty with fervent prayer to send down fire, as in the days of Elijah, to burn up his adversaries : that they should meet, and whichever should raise a dead body, should be held worthy of all belief. To this it is added that Pico of Mirandola had such faith in his adored Savonarola that he entreated that, for the benefit of letters as well as of the true faith, the dead man raised to life might be his famous uncle, Pico of Mirandola. The Franciscans, it might seem, shrunk from these tests; but one of them, Fra Francesco di Puglia, who was preaching in the church of Santa Croce, was either maddened by his ill-success, or goaded by the Arrabbiati to accept the challenge of passing through the fire. The challenge was eagerly accepted by Buonvicino as the champion of St. Mark's and of Savonarola

We cannot enter into the long dispute as to the acceptance, and the terms of this challenge to the ordeal of fire; nor into the seeming vacillations, almost the tergiversations of Savonarola, who manifestly saw its folly, though we doubt if he had

• See quotation in Perrens, p. 326. Milman's Latin Christianity, iii. p. 91.

much sense of its presumptuous impiety. The difficulty on both sides was, not who should, but who should not, share this glorious peril. The pride of either Order was at stake; the long-cherished, sometimes mitigated, yet ever out-flaming jealousy of Franciscanism and Dominicanism was at its height. Savonarola himself declined the perilous appeal to heaven: the original challenger, Fra Francesco, would not deign to confront an humbler adversary. The championship devolved on Fra Dominico Buonvicini, and a Franciscan convert, Giuliano di Rondinelli. Buonvicini vowed to maintain, by the trial of fire, these propositions of his master :—1. The Church of God must needs be reformed. 2. It shall be scourged (flagellato). 3. It will be reformed. 4. After these visitations, Florence, like the church, will revive to great prosperity. 5. The Infidels will be converted to Christianity. 6. These things will take place in our days. 7. The Papal excommunication of Savonarola is null and void. 8. Those who do not respect it do not sin. All was drawn up with strict legal form, and mutual covenants were signed and exchanged. Ten citizens were chosen to regulate the day, and to make the arrangements for the ordeal.

On Saturday, the vigil of Palm Sunday, April 7, a pile was erected on the piazza of the Signory, forty yards long, with a narrow path in the centre, of every kind of combustibles, and charged, it is said, with gunpowder. Five hundred soldiers kept the circle. But, besides this, 500 Compagnacci guarded the Franciscans ; 300 Frateschi were enrolled to protect Savonarola. The Signory took their places in a lofty balcony; the crowds around, above, at every window, on every roof, baffled calculation. A loggia, called that of Orcagna or of the Lanzi, was assigned to the two Orders; in their compartment the Dominicans erected an altar. Before he set forth, Savonarola celebrated mass at St. Mark's to a great number of the faithful; but in his short discourse he spoke not without some doubts: “God had not revealed the issue of the ordeal, or whether it would take place. If he were asked, he sup

posed that it would. It is conjectured that there were rumours of a brief from Rome prohibiting the ordeal. They marched in procession ; Savonarola, in his priestly robes, bore the Host. He placed it on the altar, at which Buonvicini knelt in humble devotion. There arose a deafening burst of chaunting from the Piagnoni; the Franciscans maintained a solemn silence. The Signory gave the sign to advance to the trial. The spectators were in the agony of expectation. Then began a strange altercation: the Franciscans would not consent that their adversary should enter the fire in his sacerdotal dress. His robes might be enchanted : they were not content with his changing his dress for a friar's garb: they would have him stripped naked, lest there should be some magic charm about him. The Franciscans stood watching every motion of Savonarola, lest he should lay some spell on his champion. The crowd grew weary of this wrangling; but it ended not there. The Franciscans protested against the small red crucifix, always borne by the followers of Savonarola. “If not the cross,' exclaimed Savonarola, let him bear the Host. The Franciscans raised a cry of horror at the sacrilegious proposal to expose the Redeemer's body to the fire. Savonarola stood firm: it had been revealed, Burlamacchi says, to Fra Silvestro Maruffi, that the champion must not enter the fire without the Host. On every side was fierce dispute, tumult, confusion. The Compagnacci strove to approach Savonarola, and put him to death. Salviati, amid his Piagnoni, drew a line with his hand, and threatened Dolfo Spina, the captain of the Compagnacci, to strike the man dead who should pass that line. Hours had passed, the day was wearing away; suddenly came down torrents of rain; the Signory seized the opportunity of declaring that God would not permit the ordeal to proceed. The Franciscans stole quietly away; but Savonarola, as he came in greater pomp, must retire with more solemn dignity: he had to bear back the Host.

• We agree with M. Perrens in following Nardi, as the most probable account of the order of events.

Conceive the fury of a vast populace, thus strung to the most intense excitement, baffled, fatigued, and, no slight aggravation, drenched with rain. There was one burst of imprecation, and all hurled at the fated head of Savonarola. The Franciscans were obscure, unknown men: it was the final appeal to God in the cause of Savonarola,—of Savonarola, who for several years had been the centre of their thoughts, the object either of their fond idolatry, or of their no less intense hatred : the legislator, the prophet, on whose lips they had hung; who had swayed them in cowering terror, or in ardent admiration. And now he had himself fallen back like a coward from the post of honour: he had put forward his poor deluded follower, and even had shrunk from exposing him, and so his whole cause, to the judgment of God. He had quibbled, shuffled, basely eluded the trial. What contempt could be sufficiently contemptuous ? What terms of reproach — poltroon, hypocrite, impostor, false prophet'could be too scornful for one who had defrauded them of their promised spectacle? Woe to him who excites the populace to the madness of high-wrought expectation, to be succeeded by the madness of disappointment! With difficulty the slow and broken procession made its way to St. Mark's, amid the jeers, curses, and peltings of the people, though environed by the bodyguard which the Signory sent to protect them. The Host alone—some believed from its inherent awfulness, some from its miraculous power-saved the person of Savonarola from the utmost violence. For the last time the gates of the church closed on their devoted prior; the spell was broken ; the wand of the magician had crumbled in his hands. Once more he mounted the pulpit; made a faithful exposition of the events of the day; gave good counsel to his scanty audience, and, after a hymn, dismissed them in peace.

The night passed away: in the morning some of the friends of Savonarola were for taking up arms, and anticipating the threatened danger: they were repressed by the prudence of Francesco Valori. The Priors met: it was agreed, that for

the public peace the Friar must leave Florence; a sentence of banishment was passed : he had not the time, if he had had the will, to obey it. His place in the pulpit of the cathedral was to be filled by Mariano degli Ughi. No sooner had the preacher appeared than there was a cry, ‘To arms! to arms!' The Compagnacci, in strong bands, thronged towards St. Mark's: the Signory passed a resolution to arrest the Prior. This seemed to authorize the movements of his enemies. The convent was begirt by hostile bands. On their first appearance two Piagnoni had been massacred; blood had thus been shed; a few penetrated into the chapel, and insulted the worshippers : they were with difficulty ejected; the gates were closed and barred. The convent, strange as it may seem, was prepared for a siege: there were arms, munitions, even cannon. But on the first message of the Signory, commanding all but the monks to quit the convent, some withdrew. Francesco Valori had set the example, after urging submission, of retreat through a postern-gate: it was hoped that he went to rally the Piagnoni without to a rescue. The more fanatic followers rushed to arms; they were headed by Benedetto, a distinguished miniature painter. Among the rest was Luca della Robbia: the hands accustomed to model those chaste and exquisite Madonnas wielded a sword: he himself deposes to his having passed that sword through the reins of one 'man; struck another in the face; and disarmed two more. The defence was desperate: they tore off the tiles of the buildings, and showered them down on their assailants. In the meantime Savonarola had made a procession through the cloisters and had taken up his post upon his knees before the altar. Francesco Valori was summoned before the Signory: he was foully murdered on the way and his palace plundered, as were many others of the principal Piagnoni. Warning after warn ing came from the Signory to St. Mark's, threatening confiscation, exile, to all laymen who should remain in the

? Compare the whole account in the Cedrus Libani, the author of which took great part in the strife. This, he says, was unknown to Savonarola.

« PreviousContinue »