We walked into town today to revisit the duomo of Florence, the cathedral. There were no lines (amazing) and we gratefully entered (no fee, more amazement) and stood in the narthex. The Gothic interior is austere – few frescoes or mosaics adorn the walls; massive vaulting is broken by stained glass panes. We walked to the center of the transept and peered up to the colorful dome, painted by Bruneleschi. The high altar and transept chapels are roped off, so there is no chapel for prayer, no place to offer thanksgiving. Through the ropes I could see the Holy Sacrament chapel, but alas, from a distance.
We returned down the massive simple nave to stairs that descended to the crypt.
Excavations have revealed the fourth-century church dedicated to Saint Reparata, an early Virgin martyr. Other churches were built over this church, and it wasn’t until the 14th century that today’s cathedral was constructed, dedicated to Our Lady of the Flower, Santa Maria del Fiore, and I learned today that that Flower, by contemporary accounts, refers to Christ himself.
We stepped into the crypt, where excavations reveal nave, aisles, apse (fee 3 Euro). An altar bears a cross, and it seemed Masses were still offered here. To the left of the apse is a glass case containing the skull and bones of Reparata herself. Martyrs were so very prized by the early church, that it is entirely possible these were her bones. There is a long lineage of attentive care and sanctified space as church after church rose over her grave, her grave the cornerstone, the keystone, the very roots of the building.
As we left the duomo, we paused to admire the pink-cream-brown-green marble squares that form the fascinating and incredible façade. The marquetry pattern, repeating in a kind of visual symphony, made me recall that someone once said that all art works to achieve the essence of music. This façade sings, and as the sun emerged through a sultry sky, the wall of color became a concerto.
We crossed the few yards to the Baptistery (fee), thought to have been transformed from a Roman temple as Christianity cleansed paganism and entered this Byzantine sacred space. In the center of the rounded western wall the Christ Pantokrator, Christ the All-Creator, in regal robes, sits on his throne of glory, surrounded by golden mosaic that tells the story of Man, from Adam to Christ. He is ready to judge and to redeem.
We headed back up the Via dei Servi to our hotel, past the church of San Michele with a vibrant painting of Michael throwing Lucifer out of Heaven, peeking into the hauntingly Baroque church of Santa Maria Annunziata with its miraculous Madonna, and finally to our hotel. Hopefully we can revisit Santa Maria Annunziata. The entrance is in the chancel and we happened upon a Mass in progress, fine if you are in the back, but we felt like intruders, and left quietly.