In Florence in Search of Dante

Our BC group has been blessed to visit some great Florentine sites in the past couple of days. Here I’m going to highlight mainly how what we saw relates to the life of Dante, as the Divine Comedy has been my principal academic interest this semester and a course I’m co-teaching with my wife. Our students have been doing a great job of reading and discussing Dante so far, and it has been a joy to prepare this course while living in Dante’s town.

The first site I want to mention is the church of Santa Croce in Florence. In this famous church lie buried men such as Galileo, Michelangelo, and Machiavelli. Its museum, formerly a Franciscan convent, houses art from Cimabue and Donatello among other greats. As for Dante, there is a huge statue of him outside in front of the church, and then inside there is a “tomb” of Dante. Dante’s body is not actually there–it’s in Ravenna where he died after he was exiled from his beloved Florence. The Florentines tried to get him back, but Ravenna told Florence, “If you didn’t want him when he was alive, you can’t have him now that he’s dead, either.” I really enjoyed praying a bit at this site. I can’t say if Dante is a saint in Heaven you can pray to, but certainly we can all strive to enter into the mystery he presents in the Comedy, that great journey out of the hellish pit of our sins through the mountain of purgation unto the celestial heights of virtue and union with God.

The second site I’d like comment on is the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. In a side chapel you can find panels depicting the Last Judgment and the Comedy’s three realms, Hell receiving the most attention. The works are deeply in need of restoration but are still great. In this church you can also find masterpieces such as Masaccio’s Trinity–the first of the Renaissance to use perspective–as well as crucifixes from Giotto and Brunelleschi. Below I have posted a complete view of Giotto’s crucifix and a close-up of its bottom wherein Christ’s blood drips upon a skull, traditionally understood to be that of Adam. This is one variation on a common theme in Western and Eastern art–that of Christ harrowing Hell and raising Adam, Eve, and the patriarchs. In Jerusalem, there is also a chapel of Adam and Eve under the site of Golgotha in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Here you see a fissure in the rock directly below the crucifixion site which is described as the place where Christ’s blood dripped down to reach those in limbo who awaited his coming.

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