The first Franciscans in Florence
The first followers of Saint Francis
arrive in Florence; at the beginning they were welcomed with suspicion but they soon
assume a primary role as councillors, ambassadors, confessors of princes and powerful people.
The arrival of Saint Francis in Florence
Saint Francis and Friar Sylvester arrived in Florence, stopping over, according to the
tradition, the Hospice of Santa Lucia dei Magnoli.
Nearby, in a little island created by Arno River, there was a chapel dedicated to the
Holy Cross which would be donated to Saint Francis and from which the present church
and friary would take the name.
The birth of Santa Croce
The history of Santa Croce 'officially' starts on September 14th, 1228 when Pope Gregory IX,
with a Bull sent from Perugia, takes under his protection the Conventual Franciscans
who used to celebrate mass in Santa Croce church in Florence.
The Library of Santa Croce
Father Guido della Fassa, the Guardian for the Franciscan Community in Santa Croce,
purchases the Decretum Gratiani
a fundamental book for the scholars, at disposal of the Florentine friars.
This is the first step towards the creation of one of the first libraries in Florence.
The new church
The new circle of city walls in Florence includes the whole district of Santa Croce.
It is decided to build a new church (the one still existing) of monumental dimensions.
The project was entrusted to Arnolfo di Cambio.
The first stone was put into place on the 3rd of May, 1294, celebration of the Holy Cross.
Many great artists, such as Giotto, Taddeo and Agnolo Gaddi, Maso di Banco, Giovanni da Milano, Brunelleschi, Michelozzo worked here.
A prestigious cultural centre
Following a flood and a fire which destroyed the Archive and the dormitory of the friary,
a second stage of the building of the church begins. At the end of the fifteenth century
it reaches its maximum extension and importance. Santa Croce becomes the headquarter of the
Studio Generale of Franciscan friars and hosts Pope Eugene IV and many other important individuals,
becoming one of the most prominent centre of European culture.
The consecration of the church
On the 6th of January, at the presence of Pope Eugene IV, the new church of Santa Croce is consecrated.
The finishing touches have to be yet done: the work will be carried on by artists such as Donatello, Michelozzo, Bernardo Rossellino, Desiderio da Settignano,
Benedetto da Maiano, Andrea and Luca Della Robbia.
Santa Croce as a Pantheon
In conjunction with the birth of the principality ruled by the Medici family the artistic
trend adapts to the spirit of the Counter-Reformation. The inside of the church changes.
Santa Croce which had already hosted in the 1400s the tombs of two people having a big influence on
Florentine public life (Leonardo Bruni and Carlo Marsuppini), becomes the burial place
of “Italian glories”, turning into the Florentine Pantheon, thanks to the presence of the
funeral monuments of Michelangelo, Rossini, Machiavelli and many others.
A church without the façade
Finishing touches continue with many difficulties until 1504 but then the funding
comes to an end so the church remains without the decoration of the façade.
Times of trouble for the Franciscans
A series of difficulties hit the Franciscan Community living in Santa Croce:
a violent storm makes the bell tower fall down and the roof of the church is
seriously damaged. In 1529 several incursions of soldiers invade the privacy
inside the walls of the Church, provoking the loss of most of liturgical treasures.
In 1557 a new flood of the Arno River destroys the Archive.
The changes carried out by Vasari
During the Counter-Reformation the Granduke of Tuscany Cosimo I de’ Medici entrusted Giorgio Vasari
to modify the architecture of the church. The ancient choir placed in the central
nave of the church was demolished, many important fourteenth century works lost,
new funeral monuments are built such as the one dedicated to Michelangelo Buonarroti.
The suppressions of religious houses, decided by the government which Napoleon
imposed in Tuscany, obliged the Franciscans to go away: they came back four years later.
During this time the church was re-opened as a parish church dedicated to
Saint Joseph in Santa Croce, with a diocesan priest.
The subversive laws
Following the 'subversive laws' promulgated by the Italian Government,
the Franciscans are obliged to leave Santa Croce again. Almost all
their belongings are confiscated by the State, sold or lost, especially
the codes, the manuscripts and the books in possession of Santa Croce Library.
The rebirth of the Franciscan tradition
The 'subversive laws' become less rigid and the Franciscan friars regain the
awareness of their religious and cultural tradition. In 1926 the Seventh Centenary
of the death of Saint Francis was fully celebrated and in 1929 the school attended
by those who wanted to enter the Franciscan group was re-opened. In 1944,
in occasion of the Fifth Centenary of the death of Saint Bernardino of Siena,
the new friary’s library was inaugurated.
Santa Croce Church turned into a “basilica”
Pope Pius XI recognizes Santa Croce as a “basilica”.
The “Studio Teologico per Laici”
On the 25th of January the friars founded the Studio Teologico per Laici,
the first in Italy, to contribute to healing of the religious and moral wounds.
The programmatic manifesto is by Giovanni Papini.
The magazine “Città di Vita”
During the first months of the year the first issue of Città di Vita,
magazine on religion, art and science, destined to be the “voice” of the
Franciscan friars of Santa Croce and their culture.
The Franciscans today
Also today, after 800 of history, the Conventual Franciscans
continue to share the Franciscan principles with people. The Studio Teologico per Laici
is still located inside the friary and the magazine Città di Vita continues to be published.