The Basilica of Santa Croce
Piazza Santa Croce 16
50122 Florence, Italy
Telephone: +39 (0) 55 2466105
Open: Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays and holidays from 2 p.m. to 5. Closed New Year’s Day, Easter, St. Anthony of Padua (June 13), St. Francis (October 4), Christmas (December 25), St. Stephen’s Day (December 26).
Admission: Full price: 6 euros. Reduced for children 11-17: 4 euros. Children under 11 are free.
Tall, skinny Santa Croce was begun by the Franciscans in 1294, but plagues and floods delayed its consecration until 1433. In 1565, Cosimo de Medici assigned Giorgio Vasari to redesign the interior. Vasari whitewashed the church’s murals, some of which have since been restored. The 1380 frescoes by Gaddi, in the Cappella Maggiore, look like decals stuck on the plain walls. They tell the story of the holy cross (“santa croce” in Italian).
Other art in Santa Croce includes frescoes by Giotto in the Bardi and Peruzzi Chapels, which illustrate the lives of St. Francis, whose order served the church, and St. John the Evangelist. Donatello’s Annunciation in gilded limestone adorns the wall of the south nave. One of the chapels was designed by Brunelleschi.
Santa Croce, according to TripAdvisor, is the richest medieval church in Florence, which features one of the finest of all early Renaissance tombs: that of Leonardo Bruni, Chancellor of the Republic. The statue of a man lies on his deathbed, face turned toward potential mourners. His bed balances atop a simple rectangular sarcophagus, which in turn balances atop lions with outsized feet. From the unveiling of the tomb in 1450, Santa Croce became the place to be buried in Florence.
The church’s floor is looped and scalloped with swoops of green or red marble across the cream base. It is lined with grave slabs. Among those buried in the floor is Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, who isn’t buried in his Vasari-designed tomb. Permanent Italians describes the monument as “Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture loung[ing] listlessly around on a sweltering August afternoon.”
Another tomb holds the remains of Niccolo Machiavelli, author of The Prince. A solemn muse, identified by Permanent Italians as Democracy, sits on the claw-foot sarcophagus and holds a cameo of the author. His epitaph translates to “For such a great man, no eulogy is sufficient.”
Gioacchino Rossini died in Paris and was buried in Pere Lachaise for a little more than 20 years before his French wife gave her approval and let his remains come home. His tomb also has an adoring mourner and at claw-foot sarcophagus, but it’s much fancier than Machiavelli’s.
Although there are many other people buried in Santa Croce whose tombs are worth a visit, you shouldn’t miss Galileo Galilei near the back doors. His odd bust depicts a skinny old man from the waist up, clutching a telescope and flanked by statues of Geometry and Astronomy. After being tried by the Inquisition for espousing the Copernican theory of the universe, Galileo was sentenced to house arrest and his books were banned. He was forbidden a Christian burial until 95 years after his death. Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses reports that he spent that time in a “closet-sized room beneath the bell tower.” When a Florentine Pope finally gave permission for Galileo to be reburied inside the church, his tomb held not only his remains but also those of a young woman. It was believed (though apparently not proven) that the second corpse belonged to Maria Celeste, Galileo’s favorite daughter. She was reinterred with him inside his tomb.
Not actually buried here is native son Dante Alighieri, author of The Divine Comedy, who was exiled – under pain of being burned alive, should he ever return to Florence – and died in Ravenna. Though they wouldn’t give him back, the Florentines commissioned a cenotaph to his memory.
Santa Croce is a living church, so conservative clothing is required. Silence is encouraged while visiting. Photography is allowed, without use of a flash or a tripod.
The Basilica’s homepage in English
A walking tour of the art in Santa Croce
Thumbnails of the art encompassed by the Basilica
What to see in Florence
My review of Permanent Italians
My review of Rest in Pieces will go up tomorrow.
Other Italian church burials on Cemetery Travel: