Girolamo Savonarola 
21 September 1452 - 23 May 1498


Biographical Outline.



Girolamo, (Jerome or Gerolamo), Savonarola was born Sept. 21, 1452, at Ferrara, to Niccolò Savonarola and Elena Bonaccorsi. He had two sisters and was the third of five brothers. He was educated by his paternal grandfather, Michele Savonarola (1390-1468), a celebrated doctor, author of medical publications.
This doctor was sent for the personal physician by marquis Niccoló III to come from Padua to his residence at Ferrara in 1440. Doctor Michele was a man of rigid moral and religious principles and he hoped that his grandson also became a medical doctor. But Savonarola became acquainted with the works of Plato and Aristoteles, quoted by Thomas Aquinas and the lecture of the Holy Bible.
As student of twenty years, Savonarola wrote 'Canzona de ruina mundi', in which he described the deterioration of morals. In his 'Canzona de ruina ecclesiae' he accused the church because of her arrogance and abuses. Gerard Jaspers says: in these Çanzona’s we find his implicit testified nostalgia of the ideal of the primal Christianity, which he described in his work ‘De simplicitate vitae christianae’ (Jaspers p. 14.)

Savonarola in Bologna 1475-1479.


Savonarola joined the Dominican order not in the priory of Our Lady of the Angels in Ferrara. He was afraid that his family should raise a strong protest against this standard of life. So he entered the Dominicans in Bologna on 24 April 1475.  In this priory the founder of the order, Saint Dominic, died and was buried in 1221. The brothers of this priory observed the stringent observance.


Savonarola in Ferrara 1479-1482.

After four years he returned to the Dominican priory ‘Mary of the Angels’ in Ferrara to complete his theological studies at the local university, the most important university of Italy. After these studies he was ordained a priest. He taught Scripture in the priory degli Angeli. The study of Scripture, together with the works of  Thomas Aquinas had always been his great passion.


Savonarola in Firenze, 1482-1487.


During his studies the city of Ferrara was the plaything between Ercole I d'Este, duke of Ferrara, and the Papal forces mustered by Ercole's personal nemesis, Pope Sixtus IV and his Venetian allies. The hostilities began on 4 May 1482.
The prior of the convent of Our Lady of the Angels evacuated the brethren in 1482, and Savonarola was sent to the priory of San Marco in Firenze. The hostilities around Ferara ended with the Treaty of Bagnolo, signed on 7 August 1484.



In Firenze the Medici’s were in power, after the fall of the family Pazzi, and Lorenzo de’Medici (1469-1492) disposed by his exceptional riches of an almost unlimited power. Lorenzo's court included artists such as Piero and Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Andrea del Verrocchio, Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Michelangelo Buonarroti who were involved in the 15th century Renaissance.

The lifestyle in Firenze was also determined by a caste of the well-to-do disbelievers. So a sensual sphere increased, in which nepotism, hedonism, superstition, scepticism and alchemy ruled the roost.  In this city Savonarola came in 1482 with his conception of the Christian community of the Acta Apostolorum 2, 42-47.


Savonarola’s scholarship in Firenze 1482-1487.


In de priory of San Marco, Firenze, Savonarola took up the post of lecturer and gained a great reputation for his learning and asceticism. He lectured especially the Apocalypse and the prophets of the Old Testament. He was so full of the notion that a judgement about Firenze was to be imminent that he heard voices at night and saw visions, which this affirmed.

His preaching.

So inspired Savonarola began his prophetic sermons.
At San Gimignano in Lent 1485 and 1486, he put forward his famous propositions: the church needed reforming; it would be scourged and then renewed.


Savonarola in Lombardy, 1487-1490.


The magister of the Dominican Order, Joachim Turriani (1487-1500), saw difficulties with the Medici by this manner of preaching and removed Savonarola in 1487 to the region of the Lombardy. In Brescia he preached about the Apocalypse with much success, and predicted terrible ordeals. In this city the government was in the hands of the lower middle class and this understood his message


Savonarola in Firenze, 1490.

In 1490 Lorenzo de’Medici requested on the advice of his friend, the philosopher John Pico della Mirandola, lay-Dominican after1493, the Master of the Order to send Savonarola to Firenze, and so he returned to the priory of San Marco.
His preaching about the Apocalypse drew so many people, that the church of San Marco was shown too small. Therefore he preached in the Dome of Firenze.


Savonarola prior of San Marco, Firenze in July 1491.


In July 1491 Savonarola was elected or appointed as prior of the priory of San Marco. In the priory was also a great room (two cells), in which Cosimo de’Medici (+8 April 1492) sometimes stayed for silence, meditation and prayer.
Savonarola set free the San Marco priory from the Lombardian province of the Dominicans with the purpose to found his own province of the strict observance.


Attack by King Charles VIII, 1494.

When the French King Charles VIII invaded Italy in 1494, some prophecies of Savonarola came true. Piero de’Medici, successor of his father Cosimo, was irresolute, Firenze indefensible, and capitulated. The enraged citizens drove Piero away with his retainers to Venice on 9 November 1494, and Firenze concluded the peace with Charles VIII, who left the city after thrice a warning of Savonarola.

In this desolate situation, Savonarola was the only authority.
He introduced a democratic government, and wanted to found his city of God in Firenze, the heart of Italy, as a well-organized Christian republic that might initiate the reform of Italy and of the church. Savonarola was no member of the Signoria, but only the brain, soul and advisor of this new Firenze.


Political intrigues in Firenze after 1495.


In the Signoria of Firenze there are four parties in 1490: (See Jaspers, o.c. p. 21)

  1. The ‘Biggi’ (the Greysh men), named after their vague attitude. Later named the ‘Palleschi’, who strived for the return of the Medici.
  2. The “Compagnacci’, political aristocratic young people, who believed in hedonism, and repeatedly disturbed Savonarola’s sermons.
  3. The ‘Arrabiati’, anti democrats, who wanted back the oligarchy from before the Medici.
  4. The ‘Lauwen’, circa 5000 members of the clergy, who felt themselves intimidated by Savonarola’s severe actions. 

Savonarola's triumph was too great and too sudden not to give rise to jealousy and suspicion. The party called the’ Arrabbiati was formed in opposition to him. But it was waiting for an outside influence, which would bring the parties to unity.


September 8, 1495, Pope Alexander VI ordered Savonarola to go to Bologna under pain of excommunication. Savonarola replied to this strange document with respectful firmness, pointing out no fewer than 18 mistakes in it. The brief was replaced by another of October 16, in which he was forbidden to preach.


At that time, as Savonarola's authority grew, the Pope tried to win him over by offering him a Cardinal's hat. He replied: "A red hat? I want a hat of blood." Then Alexander VI, pressed by the League and Arrabbiati, mounted a fresh attack. In a brief of Nov. 7, 1496, he incorporated the Congregation of San Marco, of which Savonarola was prior, with another in which he would have lost all his authority. If he obeyed, his reforms would be lost. If he disobeyed, he would be excommunicated.


During the carnival season January 1497, Savonarola’s authority received a symbolic tribute in the "burning of the vanities," when personal ornaments, lewd pictures, cards, and gaming tables were burned on the Piazza della Signoria. Destruction of books and works of art was negligible. But in the burning of February 1498 many paintings were lost, among others of Sandro Botticelli and Bartolommeo della Porta (1473-1517),who joined the Dominican Order on 26 July 1500.

Bartolommeo della Porta painted Savonarola between January-
March 1498. This portrait, tempera on panel 47x 31 cm is suspended in Savonarola’s cell in the priory of San Marco, Firenze. On the bottom of the panel the text: 'Hieronymi Ferrariensis a Deo missi prophetae effigies. Picture of Hieronymus of Ferrara, prophet sent by God.'


Italy 1952, Mi 868, Sc 609. Maximum card.
Triest 1952, Mi 185, Sc 153 = Italy 1952, Mi 868, Sc 609.

With overprint AMG-FTT:
Allied Military Government - Free Territory Trieste.


Also Gambia 1999, Mi -- , Sc 2180, q. 

The designer of this stamp may have shown the death of Savonarola on the Piazza di Signoria by hanging and in the fire. Therefore the stamp is very dark!


Bartolommeo della Porta painted Savonarola as Peter Martyr of Verona, now in the Academia of the Arts in Firenze. Other artists portrayed Savonarola on some medallions and cameos.


After two years of continuous rain, there was a crop failure in 1497 also in Firenze. The political party ‘Compagnacci’ would kill Savonarola on Ascension Day, while he was on the way to the Dome of Firenze. But a crowd of armed supporters surrounded him, so that it was impossible him to kill.  The ‘Palleschi’ tried with a surprise attack in the night before Mary’s Assumption (15 August) to bring Firenze again in the power of the Medici.
This failed, and the five Chief’s offenders were beheaded with Savonarola’s consent.


The plague in Firenze, 1497.


In the summer of 1497 the plague brook out in Firenze. On one day sometimes a hundred people died, but no children. Savonarola preached that the renewal of the church and of the community should be the work of young people.
Savonarola meant that now had come the time to convene a council to call Pope Alexander VI to account by the ‘defensors of the Christianity': the Emperor and Kings of France, Great-Britain, Spain and Hungary. It remained a proposal.


The trial by ordeal in 1498.


The Franciscan Francesco di Puglia, one of Savonarola’s most formidable opponents, challenged him to the trial by ordeal. Savonarola refused it, but against the will Savonarola, Fra Domenico da Pescia, O.P. one of the most impassioned of his followers brought events to a head. Fra Domenico took at his word a Franciscan who had challenged to ordeal by fire anyone who maintained the invalidity of Savonarola's excommunication.
Only Savonarola was dissatisfied. Savonarola, victorious by the terms of the decree, was blamed for not having achieved a miracle. The trial was planned 7 April 1498, Saturday before Palm Sunday, but there were so many discords. Then in the afternoon a heavy thunderstorm bursted out and the Signoria sent the people home, believed that Savonarola had prevented the spectacle.


Trial and execution in 1498.


The following day, 8 April 1498, the rabble led by the Arrabbiati and the Palleschi, marched to the priory of San Marco, and overcame the defenders, among others Bartolommeo della Porta. Savonarola was taken like a common criminal together with his followers: Fra Domenico Buonavicini and Silvestri Maruffi in the library of the priory of San Marco, where is a marble commemorative tablet.
After examination by a commission of his worst enemies and after savage torture, it was yet necessary to falsify the record of the inquiry if he was to be charged with any crimes. But his fate was settled. His fellow brothers neither accused, nor defended him.

The appeal of Alexander VI to extradition to Rome was turned down. The Signoria announced the Pope that it may be important for Firenze that Savonarola was put to death in the midst of the Florentines, “then they should retire from believing Savonarola and his divine mission. “ Jaspers, o.a. p. 31. Alexander VI was very understanding, and sent a papal commission. The commissioners came from Rome "with the verdict in their bosom," as one of them said. In this papal commission the master of the Dominican order, Joachim Turriani, sat on, and the Judge Advocate General, vice-regent of Rome, Francesco Romolino.


After the ecclesiastical trial, - May 22 -, which was even more perfunctory, he was handed over to the secular arm, with his two companions, to be hanged and burned on the Piazza della Signoria, Firenze, 23 May, the day before Ascension Day, 1498. And so it happened. There is a commemorative plate. Their ashes were strewn in the river Arno.



The cult of Savonarola.  

After Savonarola's death a cult was dedicated to him, which had a long history. Saints canonized by the church, such as Philip Neri and Catherine de' Ricci, venerated him as a saint; an office was said for him, and miracles he had performed were recorded. He was portrayed in paintings and medals with the title of beatus. In the Acta Sanctorum he was included among the praetermissi. When the 500th anniversary of his birth came around in 1952, there was again talk of his canonization. But it remained just talking.

A famous pupil of Savonarola was the Dominican painter
Bartolommeo della Porta, O.P. (March 28, 1472-October 31, 1517). He painted two portraits of Savonarola.

On the painting ‘Disputa del Sacramento’ by Raphael ‘Savonarola is to be seen among the onlookers.

The ideas of Savonarola in Sandro Botticelli's 'The Mystical Nativity'.

Experts mean that the ideas of Savonarola are illustrated in the painting of Sandro Botticelli ‘The Mystical Nativity’, circa 1500-1501; tempera on canvas, 108,5 x 75 cm, preserved  in the National Gallery, London.   The board of the National Gallery wrote:

‘The Florentine artist Sandro Botticelli painted the 'Mystic Nativity', dated 1500, at the turn of the half-millennium. At first glance the painting seems to show a conventional Nativity scene. Shepherds and wise men have come to visit the new-born king, while angels in the heavens dance and sing hymns of praise. However, the text at the top of the picture, veiled in scholarly Greek, provides a key to further layers of meaning

The Greek inscription has been translated:

'I Sandro made this picture at the conclusion of the year 1500 in the troubles of Italy in the half time after the time according to the 11th chapter of Saint John in the second woe of the Apocalypse during the loosing of the devil for three and a half years then he will be chained in the 12th chapter and we shall see [...] as in this picture.' ‘


The missing words may have been 'him burying himself'. The 'half time after the time' has been generally understood as a year and a half earlier, that is, in 1498, when the French invaded Italy, but it may mean a half millennium (500 years) after a millennium (1000 years): 1500, the date of the painting.

Like the end of the millennium in the year 1000, the end of the half millennium in 1500 also seemed to many people to herald the Second Coming of Christ, prophesied in Revelation.

This predicts Christ's return to earth amidst a series of catastrophes, heralding the end of the world, the Last Judgement and the reconciliation of devout Christians with God.

The reference explains the unusual inclusion in the picture of angels and men embracing, the abundance of olive branches symbolising peace, and the seven devils fleeing underground. The 'Mystic Nativity' is therefore a unique synthesis of Christ's birth, as told in the Gospels, with a vision of his Second Coming.



The painting ‘Mystic Nativity’, by Sandro Botticelli, about 1500- 1510,  is preserved since 1878 in the National Gallery, London.
Many Postal Administrations of the World published ‘The Mystic Nativity’ by Sandro Botticelli, mostly only the central part. Panama 1966, Michel block 57, Scott block 417E shows the whole painting.

The ‘Savonarola chair.

During the occupation of Firenze by the troops of Charles VIII (1494), the soldiers saw the furniture of the houses in Firenze, and among others the X-chairs, so named for their crossed legs, and easy to carry off. The soldiers took them back to France and named them for their local hero, a "sedia Savonarola" or "Savonarola chair."

Sources:Jaspers, Gerard: Savonarola (1452-1498) in de Nederlanden. Amsterdam 1998.
            : Internet. 





The 'Disputation of the Sacrament '(Italian: La disputa del sacramento), or Disputa, is a painting by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael (Raffaelo Santi 06.04.1483-06.04.1520)It was painted between 1509 and 1510 as the first part of Raphael's commission to decorate with frescoes the rooms that are now known as the Stanze di Raffaello, in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.
At the time, this room was know as the
Stanza della segnatura, and was the private papal library where the supreme papal tribunal met (Adams 344). Raphael has created a scene spanning both heaven and earth.

Ajman 1972, Mi 1891.


Above, Christ is surrounded by the Blessed Virgin Mary,
John the Baptist and various biblical figures such as Adam, Moses and Jacob.
God sits above Jesus, depicted reigning over the golden light of heaven. Below, on the altar sits the

altar is flanked by theologians who are depicted debating Transubstantiation. Christ's body is represented in the Eucharist, which is discussed by representatives of the Church; among them are Pope Julius II, Pope Sixtus IV, Savonarola and Dante Alighieri.

Pope Sixtus IV is the gold dressed Pope in the bottom of the painting. Directly behind Sixtus is Dante, wearing red and
sporting a laurel wreath (symbolizing his greatness as a writer.
In the left hand corner, there is a bald figure reading a book leaning over a railing.

This is Raphael's mentor and famous renaissance architect Bramante.

At the bottom of the painting three Dominicans are represented:
at the left Fra Angelico, in the middle Thomas Aquinas and at the right Savonarola.







Statue of Savonarola in the Luther-memorial
   by E.
Rietschel (1868) in Worms, Germany.



         Germany 1955. Postcard Worms. >>>>>>






Germany 1932. Postmark Worms,




5th Centenary of Girolamo Savonarola’s birth at Ferrara,


 Italy 1952. Postmark Ferrara, 21.09.1952. 






5th Centenary of Girolamo Savonarola' birth in Ferrara


Italy 1952. Postmark Ferrara, 21 September 1952. 







5th Centenary of Savonarola’s death on the stake in Firenze,

Picture after a portrait by Bartolommeo della Porta
(28.03.1472-06.10.1517), tempera on panel 47x 31 cm.

Museo di San Marco, Firenze.


Italy 1998. Ferrara, postmark 16.05.1998.




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