Many are the pilgrimage routes in Tuscany. Just think of the Via Francigena, a historic route for merchants and pilgrims travelling to the city of Rome. Also worth mentioning is the way of San Francesco, the final stages of which run through the La Verna sanctuary. We could go on for hours.
We recommend a route that winds through the historic center of Florence. Each step along the way will be a discovery of the churches that hosted the Cattedra Vescovile, the Episcopal Throne. From San Lorenzo, which San Zanobi (398-429) selected as the first cathedral in Florence, you will make your way to the church of San Salvatore al Vescovo, to the rear of the Palazzo Vescovile, you will also encounter the Baptistery and Santa Reparata, en route to the grandiose building of Florence’s Duomo.
The first documented bishop of Florence is San Zanobi (398-429), who chose San Lorenzo as his seat and made it the city's first cathedral. The spread of Christianity is based on the adherence of the faithful, but the bond with the universal Church is maintained through the apostles’ successors, namely the bishops, and the episcopal see (cathedra) becomes the point of reference for the Christians of any Diocese.
The church contains Bronzino’s fresco The martyrdom of San Lorenzo (1565-69), where the location of the martyrdom is indicated by the enormous building in the background and by the columns that act as a backdrop to the scene.
Above the altar of the third chapel, the painting San Lorenzo and the souls in Purgatory by Niccolò Lapi (eighteenth century) is significant for its mode of devotion. The saint wears the dalmatic, a liturgical vestment of the deacons, and presents himself as an intermediary between the souls of purgatory and the Trinity, which can be seen beyond the angels. The Basilica di San Lorenzo naturally became a destination for pilgrimages, its influence bolstered by the development of the neighbouring market.
The name, structure and decorations of the church of San Salvatore al Vescovo mark the installation of the Bishop's inner-city residence and his curia. The façade is the sole medieval structure within the palace walls. The interior is executed in Florentine Romanesque style with balanced geometric proportions, two-toned marble and architectural elements characteristic of the late Roman period. Under the central arch, you will find evidence of a profound symbolism with the seven candlesticks of the Apocalypse, which represent the seven churches of Asia to which Christ allegedly spoke. The geometric design features both the Trinity (shown in three parts) and the double nature of Christ, human and divine, represented by the element divided in two.
Originally, it was believed that the foundation of the Baptistery was that of a pagan temple dedicated to the god Mars: recent studies, however, have instead identified the existence of a design that united the Episcope, the Baptistery and the cathedral of Santa Reparata in one single project and on a single axis. The building was dressed in precious marble during the twelfth century and also provided with a huge cupola, an apse and outside doors, while the famous bronze doors by Ghiberti were added in the mid-fifteenth century.
Zanobi belonged to the Florentine church. He was chosen by Pope Damasus for a mission to Constantinople, and upon his return he was appointed bishop of Florence. He died around 429 and was buried in San Lorenzo, where he had his cathedra or seat; his relics were later moved to the new cathedral of Santa Reparata.
The transportation of his remains proved to have great religious significance – according to witnesses along the route, a dried-up elm was touched by Zanobi’s holy remains and burst into life. In 1384, to commemorate the prodigious event, a commemorative column was erected on the spot where the event occurred, outside the north door of the Baptistery.
A raised choir was built in the church Santa Reparata around the year 1150, and a crypt constructed underneath, where the remains of Bishop San Zanobi rested until 1439.
The cult of Santa Reparata refers to the eastern origins of Florence's first Christians: Reparata suffered martyrdom in Caesarea, Palestine during the Decian persecutions (250 approx). The devotion to the Saint gave rise to many artistic representations, and one of the most famous is a work by Arnolfo di Cambio. Originally found in the lunette of the central portal of Santa Maria del Fiore, his marble statue can now be visited in the recovered part of the old cathedral, under the floor of the Duomo.
At the end of the thirteenth century, Florence was a wealthy city. With fingers in every social, religious and political pie, the city desired a new cathedral that would reflect the great success of the community and the deep faith of its inhabitants. The cathedral of Florence was to elevate the dignity of mankind and would stand head and shoulders above those of its neighbours and rivals.
Santa Maria del Fiore is evidence of this aspiration realized. You will notice the precision of the decorations both inside and outside the church, part of the city’s tribute to the Madonna. The link between the physical structure of the church and the body of Christ is even more significant in this context of a cathedral-church, where the Bishop, successor to the apostles, sits on his throne by will of the pope, the vicar of Christ.