Thursday, February 07, 2013

Florence, day two

Yesterday was, in one way, my Franciscan day. Today the Dominicans were central to my time here in Florence.

I went to the church of San Marco, which is one of the Dominican churches here. I prayed before the altar where they have laid the body of St. Antoninus, the Dominican bishop of Florence.

But San Marco, especially the convento, the friars' housing is better known for two other friars. And so I spent more than two hours wandering the museum. Unfortunately they don't allow you to take pictures, but it is the most memorable time of my visit here.

Fra Angelico painted stunning frescos on the walls of the cells on the second floor of the convent.

Walking up the stairs I turned and saw at the top the famous fresco of the Annunciation. I stopped and gazed in awe. There is a beauty there and a simplicity, as Mary, seated with hands crossed, responds to the angel's announcement that she will conceive the Son of God.

There is little ornamentation in the little porch where the meeting takes place and to the left, over the wall, there are only some tall pines that I've seen here.

In this simple setting, the Word was made Flesh.

When I could detach myself from the fresco, I went and visited the cells, each one adorned with a fresco from the life of Christ, many of them with the anachronism of saints looking on.

The first cell had an image of Jesus and Mary Magdalene outside the tomb. I just realized that Mary Magdalen holds a special place among the Dominicans as the "first among the apostles," because she announced that Jesus is risen to the apostles.

But what touched me is that Jesus had a hoe over his shoulder. Mary thought he was the gardener and in this picture he is the gardener. He is preparing the new Garden of Eden for us.

The rest of the cells had a variety of images, many of them of the crucified Jesus.

No wonder that these were the friars who, at the end of the 15th century, followed Fra Girolamo Savonarola, a friar who preached conversion and led the city to make major changes. Caught up in political and ecclesiastical power struggles, he was eventually burned at the stake with two other friars in the Piazza delle Signori,

There is much more that one could say about the Museo One image by Fra Angelico showed St. Dominic with a finger to his lips - as if to call all of us to silence.

After leaving San Marco, I went to the Museum of the Church of Santa Maria Novella, another Dominican church.

There are hundreds of frescos here, some in very poor condition. But what I noted is the recurring presence of three friars -

St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Friars Preachers (the Dominicans) - at least once with a group of dogs - enlisting his Domini canes, dogs of the Lord;

St. Peter of Verona, the first martyred member of the order;

and St. Thomas Aquinas, who has a whole wall in the Spanish Chapel, dedicated to him, as well as a chapel in the church where Christ is giving him wisdom at the same time as St. Peter receives the keys of the Kingdom.

But what really impressed me was the large cross by Giotto suspended in the church - simply Christ, suspended between heaven and earth.

There were other places I visited Thursday - including the Baptistry and the Cathedral Museum, but nothing can match the experience of God's presence in the Convent of San Marco, especially in the frescos of Fra Angelico.

No comments: