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Battistero, Firenze

Itinerary: Bishops in Florence

Visit the San Lorenzo, Baptistery and more


The current building is the third dedicated to San Lorenzo (built mid 1400s). The first documented Bishop of Florence was San Zanobi (398-429) who chose San Lorenzo as his seat and made it the first cathedral of Florence. In the fresco ‘The Martyrdom of San Lorenzo’ (Bronzino, 1565-69) the location of the martyrdom is indicated by a monumental building in the background and by the columns: symbols of paganism are the statues of deities.

The Basilica of San Lorenzo soon became a place of pilgrimage whose affluence determined the development of the market.


The church (1032), its name, the structure and the decorations are testament to the residence of the Bishop within the city walls. The Bishop’s palace is aligned with the Baptistery and the church of Santa Reparata (where the Duomo now stands). The façade is the only medieval part of the building - the style is Florentine Romanesque, with balanced geometric proportions, characteristic two-tone marble decorations and the architectural style of the late Roman Empire


For a long time it was thought that Baptistery was originally a pagan temple dedicated to Mars, however recent studies have identified the existence of a coordinated plan for the Bishop's Palace, the Baptistery and the Cathedral of Santa Reparata. The building had a monumental dome, an apse, and the original doors, while Ghiberti’s bronze doors were added in the 1400s. It is likely that a smaller Baptistery existed on the spot before the current one was built.


Zanobi, from the Florentine church, was chosen by Pope Damasus to embark on a mission to Constantinople, and on his return was appointed bishop of Florence. He died in 429 and was buried in San Lorenzo where he had had his seat. His remains were later moved to the cathedral of Santa Reparata. During the transportation, the coffin touched a dead tree which immediately sprung to life. The column was erected in 1384 to commemorate this miracle.


Neither the maker of this marble relief, nor its original position are known. Now it is situated on the south side of the Duomo, but its iconography and current position attribute its creation to the transition period between the cathedral of Santa Reparata and that of Santa Maria del Fiore.

Between the angel and Mary there is a building, a shrine or temple, consisting of two columns supporting a trefoil arch: the symbolism refers to the Trinity (the trefoil arch) and the dual nature of Christ (two columns).The relationship between the building and the body of Christ is even more relevant when applied to the cathedral where the bishops, successors of the apostles, are vicars of Christ.


The first church was destroyed during barbarian invasions, rebuilt and then later destroyed again to make way for the current cathedral. The name Santa Reparata refers to the early Christians in Florence: Reparata was martyred at Caesarea in Palestine, during persecutions by the Emperor Decius (250). The remains of the old cathedral, including a famous work by Arnolfo di Cambio (1294), can be found under the floor of the current cathedral.


At the end of the 1200s Florence, a city already rich and well-developed socially, politically and religiously, wanted a new cathedral to represent the splendour which the community had attained.

The cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore interprets this aspiration and translates it into the decoration both outside and inside the cathedral. The dedication to Mary is continued almost seamlessly throughout the cathedral from the medieval façade by Arnolfo, and the decorations around each of the three doors which recall episodes from the life of Mary, to the mosaic of the Coronation of Mary (Gaddi, 1300s) and Donatello’s Coronation of Mary.
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