Story type: Essay
Some have narrowed their minds, and so fettered them with the chains of antiquity that not only do they refuse to speak save as the ancients spake, but they refuse to think save as the ancients thought. God speaks to us, too, and the best thoughts are those now being vouchsafed to us. We will excel the ancients!
The wise ones say with a sigh, Genius does not reproduce itself. But let us take heart and remember that mediocrity does not always do so, either. Men of genius have often been the sons of commonplace parents–no hovel is safe from it.
The father of Girolamo Savonarola was a trifler, a spendthrift and a profligate. Yet he proved a potent teacher for his son, pressing his lessons home by the law of antithesis. The sons of dissipated fathers are often temperance fanatics.
The character of Savonarola’s mother can be best gauged by the letters written to her by her son. Many of these have come down to us, and they breathe a love that is very gentle, very tender and yet very profound. That this woman had an intellect which went to the heart of things is shown in these letters: we write for those who understand, and the person to whom a letter is written gives the key that calls forth its quality. Great love-letters are written only to great women.
But the best teacher young Girolamo had was Doctor Michael Savonarola, his grandfather, who was a physician of Padua, and a man of much wisdom and common-sense, besides. Between the old man and his grandchild there was a very tender sentiment, that soon formed itself into an abiding bond. Together they rambled along the banks of the Po, climbed the hills in springtime looking for the first flowers, made collections of butterflies, and caught the sunlight in their hearts as it streamed across the valleys as the shadows lengthened. On these solitary little journeys they usually carried a copy of Saint Thomas Aquinas, and seated on a rock the old man would read to the boy lying on the grass at his feet. In a year or two the boy did the reading, and would expound the words of the Saint as he went along.
The old grandfather was all bound up in this slim, delicate youngster, with the olive complexion and sober ways. There were brothers and sisters at home–big and strong–but this boy was different. He was not handsome enough to be much of a favorite with girls, nor strong enough to win the boys, and so he and the grandfather were chums together.
This thought of aloofness, of being peculiar, was first fostered in the lad’s mind by the old man. It wasn’t exactly a healthy condition. The old man taught the boy to play the flute, and together they constructed a set of pipes–the pipes o’ Pan–and out along the river they would play, when they grew tired of reading, and listen for the echo that came across the water.
“There are voices calling to me,” said the boy looking up at the old man, one day, as they rested by the bank.
“Yes, I believe it–you must listen for the Voice,” said the old man.
And so the idea became rooted in the lad’s mind that he was in touch with another world, and was a being set apart.
“Lord, teach me the way my soul should walk!” was his prayer. Doubt and distrust filled his mind, and his nights were filled with fear. This child without sin believed himself to be a sinner.
But this feeling was all forgotten when another companion came to join them in their walks. This was a girl about the same age as Girolamo. She was the child of a neighbor–one of the Strozzi family. The Strozzi belonged to the nobility, and the Savonarolas were only peasants, yet with children there is no caste. So this trinity of boy, girl and grandfather was very happy. The old man taught his pupils to observe the birds and bees, to make tracings of the flowers, and to listen to the notes he played on the pipes, so as to call them all by name. And then there was always the Saint Thomas Aquinas to fall back upon should outward nature fail.
But there came a day when the boy and the girl ceased to walk hand in hand, and instead of the delight and abandon of childhood there was hesitation and aloofness.
When the parents of the girl forbade her playing with the boy, reminding her of the difference in their station, and she came by stealth to bid the old man and her playmate Girolamo good-by, the pride in the boy’s heart flamed up: he clenched his fist–and feeling spent itself in tears.
When he looked up the girl was gone–they were never to meet again.
The grief of the boy pierced the heart of the old man, and he murmured, “Joy liveth yet for a day, but the sorrow of man abideth forever.”
Doubt and fear assailed the lad.
The efforts of his grandfather to interest him in the study of his own profession of medicine failed. Religious brooding filled his days, and he became pale and weak from fasting.
He had grown in stature, but the gauntness of his face made his coarse features stand out so, that he was almost repulsive. But this homeliness was relieved by the big, lustrous, brown eyes–eyes that challenged and beseeched in turn.
The youth was now a young man–eighteen summers lay behind–when he disappeared from home.
Soon came a letter from Bologna in which Girolamo explained at length to his mother that the world’s wickedness was to him intolerable, its ambition ashes, and its hopes not worth striving for. He had entered the monastery of Saint Dominico, and to save his family the pain of parting he had stolen quietly away. “I have harkened to the Voice,” he said.
* * * * *
Savonarola remained in the monastery at Bologna for six years, scarcely passing beyond its walls. These were years of ceaseless study, writing, meditation–work. He sought the most menial occupations–doing tasks that others cautiously evaded. His simplicity, earnestness and austerity won the love and admiration of the monks, and they sought to make life more congenial to him, by advancing him to the office of teacher to the novitiates.
He declared his unfitness to teach, and it was an imperative order, and not a suggestion, that forced him to forsake the business of scrubbing corridors on hands and knees, and array himself in the white robe of a teacher and reader.
The office of teacher and that of orator are not far apart–it is all a matter of expression. The first requisite in expression is animation–you must feel in order to impart feeling. No drowsy, lazy, disinterested, half-hearted, preoccupied, selfish, trifling person can teach–to teach you must have life, and life in abundance. You must have abandon–you must project yourself, and inundate the room with your presence. To infuse life, and a desire to remember, to know, to become, into a class of a dozen pupils, is to reveal the power of an orator. If you can fire the minds of a few with your own spirit, you can, probably, also fuse and weld a thousand in the same way.
Savonarola taught his little class of novitiates, and soon the older monks dropped in to hear the discourse. A larger room was necessary, and in a short time the semi-weekly informal talk resolved itself into a lecture, and every seat was occupied when it was known that Brother Girolamo would speak.
This success suggested to the Prior that Savonarola be sent out to preach in the churches round about, and it was so done.
But outside the monastery Savonarola was not a success: he was precise, exact, and labored to make himself understood–freedom had not yet come to him.
But let us wait!
One of America’s greatest preachers was well past forty before he evolved abandon, swung himself clear, and put out for open sea. Uncertainty and anxiety are death to oratory.
In every monastery there are two classes of men–the religious, the sincere, the earnest, the austere; and the fat, lazy, profligate and licentious.
And the proportion of the first class to the second changes just in proportion as the monastery is successful–to succeed in Nature is to die. The fruit much loved by the sun rots first. The early monasteries were mendicant institutions, and for mendicancy to grow rich is an anomaly that carries a penalty. A successful beggar is apt to be haughty, arrogant, dictatorial–from a humble request for alms to a demand for your purse is but a step. In either case the man wants something that is not his–there are three ways to get it: earn it, beg it, seize it. The first method is absurd–to dig I am ashamed–the second, easy; the last is best of all, provided objection is not too strenuous. Beggars a-horseback are knights of the road.
That which comes easy, goes easy, and so it is the most natural thing in the world for a monk to become a connoisseur of wines, an expert gourmet, a sensualist who plays the limit. The monastic impulse begins in the beautiful desire for solitude–to be alone with God–and ere it runs its gamut dips deep into license and wallows in folly.
The austere monk leaves woman out, the other kind enslaves her: both are wrong, for man can never advance and leave woman behind. God never intended that man, made in His image, should be either a beast or a fool.
And here we are wiser than Savonarola–noble, honest and splendid man that he was. He saw the wickedness of the world and sought to shun it by fleeing to a monastery. There he saw the wickedness of the monastery, and there being no place to flee he sought to purify it. And at the same time he sought to purify and better the world by standing outside of the world.
The history of the Church is a history of endeavor to keep it from drifting into the thing it professes not to be–concrete selfishness. The Church began in humility and simplicity, and when it became successful, behold it became a thing of pomp, pride, processional, crowns, jewels, rich robes and a power that used itself to subjugate and subdue, instead of to uplift and lead by love and pity.
Oh, the shame of it!
And Savonarola saw these things–saw them to the exclusion of everything else–and his cry continually was for a return to the religion of Jesus the Carpenter, the Man who gave his life that others might live.
The Christ spirit filled the heart of Savonarola. His soul was wrung with pity for the poor, the unfortunate, the oppressed; and he had sufficient insight into economics to know that where greed, gluttony and idleness abound, there too stalk oppression, suffering and death. The palaces of the rich are built on the bones of the poor.
Others, high in Church authority, saw these things, too, and knew, no less than Savonarola, the need of reform–they gloried in his ringing words of warning, and they admired no less his example of austerity.
They could not do the needed work–perhaps he could do a little, at least.
And so he was transferred to Saint Mark’s Monastery at Florence–the place that needed him most.
Florence was the acknowledged seat of art and polite learning of all Italy, and Saint Mark’s was the chief glory of the Church in Florence.
Florence was prosperous and so was Saint Mark’s, and have we not said that there is something in pure prosperity that taints the soul?
Savonarola was sent to Saint Mark’s merely as a teacher and lecturer. Bologna was full of gloom and grime–the bestiality there was untamed. Here everything was gilded, gracious and good to look upon. The cloister-walks were embowered in climbing roses, the walls decorated fresh from the brush of Fra Angelico, and the fountains in the gardens, adorned by naked cupids, sent their sparkling beads aloft to greet the sunlight.
Brother Girolamo had never seen such beauty before–its gracious essence enfolded him round, and for a few short hours lifted that dead weight of abiding melancholy from his soul.
When he lectured he was surprised to find many fashionable ladies in his audience: learning was evidently a fad. He saw that it was expected that he should be amusing, diverting, and incidentally, instructive. He had only one mode of preaching–this was earnest exhortation to a higher life, the life of austerity, simplicity and nearness to God, by laboring to benefit His children.
He mumbled through his lecture and retired, abashed and humiliated.
* * * * *
It was the year Fourteen Hundred Eighty-two, and the whole world was athrill with thought and feeling. Lorenzo the Magnificent was at the very height of his power and popularity; printing-presses gave letters an impetus; art flourished; the people were dazzled by display and were dipping deep into the love of pleasure. The austerity of Christian religion had glided off by imperceptible degrees into pagan pageantry, and the song of bacchanals filled the streets at midnight.
Lorenzo did for the world a great and splendid work–for one thing, he discovered Michelangelo–and the encouragement he gave to the arts made Florence the beautiful dream in stone that she is even to this day.
The world needs the Lorenzos and the world needs, too, the Savonarolas–they form an Opposition of Forces that holds the balance true. Power left to itself attains a terrific impetus: a governor is needed, and it was Savonarola who tempered and tamed the excesses of the Medici.
In Fourteen Hundred Eighty-three Savonarola was appointed Lenten preacher at the Church of Saint Lorenzo in Florence. His exhortations were plain, homely, blunt–his voice uncertain, and his ugly features at times inclined his fashionable auditors to unseemly smiles. When ugliness forgets itself and gives off the flash of the spirit, it becomes magnificent–takes upon itself a halo–but this was not yet to be.
The orator must subdue his audience or it will subdue him.
Savonarola retired to his cloister-cell, whipped and discouraged. He took no part in the festivals and fetes: the Gardens of Lorenzo were not for him; the society of the smooth and cultured lovers of art and literature was beyond his pale. Being incapable by temperament of mixing in the whirl of pleasure, he found a satisfaction in keeping out of it, thus proving his humanity. Not being able to have a thing, we scorn it. Men who can not dance are apt to regard dancing as sinful.
Savonarola saw things as a countryman sees them when he goes to a great city for the first time.
There is much that is wrong–very much that is wasteful, extravagant, absurd and pernicious, but it is not all base, and the visitor is apt to err in his conclusions, especially if he be of an intense and ascetic type.
Savonarola was sick at heart, sick in body–fasts and vigils had done their sure and certain work for nerves and digestion. He saw visions and heard voices, and in the Book of Revelation he discovered the symbols of prophesy that foretold the doom of Florence. He felt that he was divinely inspired.
In the outside world he saw only the worst–and this was well.
He believed that he was one sent from God to cleanse the Church of its iniquities–and he was right.
These madmen are needed–Nature demands them, and so God makes them to order. They are ignorant of what the many know, and this is their advantage; they are blind to all but a few things, and therein lies their power.
The belief in his mission filled the heart of Savonarola. Gradually he gained ground, made head, and the Prior of Saint Mark’s did what the Prior of Saint Dominico’s had done at Bologna–he sent the man out on preaching tours among the churches and monasteries. The austerity and purity of his character, the sublimity of his faith, and his relentless war upon the extravagance of the times, made his presence valuable to the Church. Then in all personal relationships the man was most lovable–gentle, sympathetic, kind. Wherever he went his influence was for the best.
Power plus came to him for the first time at Brescia in Fourteen Hundred Eighty-six. The sermon he gave was one he had given many times; in fact, he never had but one theme: flee from the wrath to come, and accept the pardon of the gentle Christ ere it is too late–ere it is too late.
Much of what passes for oratory is merely talk, lecture, harangue and argument. These things may all be very useful, and surely they have their place in the world of work and business, but oratory is another thing. Oratory is the impassioned outpouring of a heart–a heart full to bursting: it is the absolute giving of soul to soul.
Every great speech is an evolution–it must be given many times before it becomes a part of the man himself. Oratory is the ability to weld a mass of people into absolutely one mood. To do this the orator must lose himself in his subject–he must cast expediency to the winds. And more than this, his theme must always be an appeal for humanity. Invective, threat, challenge, all play their parts, but love is the great recurring theme that winds in and out through every great sermon or oration. Pathos is only possible where there is great love, and pathos is always present in the oration that subdues, that convinces, that wins, and sends men to their knees in abandonment of their own wills. The audience is the female element–the orator the male, and love is the theme. The orator comes in the name of God to give protection–freedom.
Usually the great orator is on the losing side. And this excites on the part of the audience the feminine attribute of pity, and pity fused with admiration gives us love–thus does love act and react on love.
Oratory supplies the most sublime gratification which the gods have to give. To subdue the audience and blend mind with mind affords an intoxication beyond the ambrosia of Elysium. When Sophocles pictured the god Mercury seizing upon the fairest daughter of Earth and carrying her away through the realms of space, he had in mind the power of the orator, which through love lifts up humanity and sways men by a burst of feeling that brooks no resistance.
Oratory is the child of democracy–it pleads for the weak, for the many against the few–and no great speech was ever yet made save in behalf of mankind. The orator feels their joys, their sorrows, their hopes, their desires, their aspirations, their sufferings and pains. They may have wandered far, but his arms are open wide for their return. Here alone does soul respond to soul. And it is love, alone, that fuses feeling so that all are of one mind and mood. Oratory is an exercise of power.
But oratory, like all sublime pleasures, pays its penalty–this way madness lies. The great orator has ever been a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Oratory points the martyr’s path; it leads by the thorn road; and those who have trod the way have carried the cross with bleeding feet, and deep into their side has been thrust the spear.
* * * * *
It was not until his fortieth year that Savonarola attained that self-sufficiency and complete self-reliance that marks a man who is fit for martyrdom. Courage comes only to those who have done the thing before.
By this time Savonarola had achieved enemies, and several dignitaries had done him the honor of publicly answering him. His invective was against the sins of Church and Society, but his enemies, instead of defending their cause, did the very natural thing of inveighing against Savonarola.
Thus did they divert attention from the question at issue. Personal abuse is often more effective than argument, and certainly much more easy to wield.
Savonarola was getting himself beautifully misunderstood. Such words as fanatic, pretender, agitator, heretic, renegade and “dangerous” were freely hurled at him. They said he was pulling down the pillars of Society. He seriously considered retiring entirely from the pulpit; and as a personal vindication and that his thoughts might live, he wrote a book, “The Triumph of the Cross.” This volume contains all his philosophy and depicts truth as he saw it.
Let a reader, ignorant of the author, peruse this book today, and he will find in it only the oft-repeated appeal of a believer in “Primitive Christianity.” Purity of life, sincerity, simplicity, earnestness, loyalty to God and love to man–these are very old themes, yet they can never die. Zeal can always fan them into flame.
Savonarola was an unconscious part of the great “humanist” movement.
Savonarola, John Knox, the Wesleys, Calvin, Luther, the Puritans, Huguenots, Quakers, Shakers, Mennonites and Dunkards–all are one. The scientist sees species under all the manifold manifestations of climate, environment and local condition.
Florence was a republic, but it is only eternal vigilance that can keep a republic a republic. The strong man who assumes the reins is continually coming to the fore, and the people diplomatically handled are quite willing to make him king, provided he continues to call himself “Citizen.”
Lorenzo de Medici ruled Florence, yet occupied no office, and assumed no title. He dictated the policy of the government, filled all the offices, and ministered the finances. Incidentally he was a punctilious Churchman–obeying the formula–and the Church at Florence was within his grasp no less than the police. The secret of this power lay in the fact that he handled the “sinews of war”–no man ever yet succeeded largely in a public way who was not a financier, or else one who owned a man who was. Public power is a matter of money, wisely used.
To divert, amuse and please the people is a necessity to the ruler, for power at the last is derived from the people, and no government endures that is not founded on the consent of the governed. If you would rule either a woman or a nation, you had better gain consent. To secure this consent you must say “please.”
The gladiatorial shows of Greece, the games, contests, displays, all the barbaric splendor of processions, music, fetes, festivals, chants, robes and fantastic folderol of Rome–ancient and modern–the boom of guns in sham battles, coronations, thrones and crowns are all manifestations of this great game of power.
The people are children, and must be pleased.
But eventually the people reach adolescence: knowledge comes to them (to a few at least) and they perceive that they themselves foot all bills, and pay in sweat and tears and blood for all this pomp of power.
They rise in their might, like a giant aroused from sleep, and the threads that bound them are burst asunder. They themselves assume the reins of government, and we have a republic.
And this republic endures until some republican, coming in the name of the people, waxes powerful and evolves into a plutocrat who assumes the reins, and the cycle goes its round and winds itself up on the reel of time.
Savonarola thundered against the extravagance, moral riot and pomp of the rich–and this meant the Medici, and all those who fed at the public trough, and prided themselves on their patriotism.
Lorenzo grew uneasy, and sent requests that the preacher moderate his tone in the interests of public weal. Savonarola sent back words that were unbecoming in one addressing a ruler.
Then it was that Lorenzo the Magnificent, also the wise and wily, resolved on a great diplomatic move.
He had the fanatical and troublesome monk, Fra Girolamo Savonarola, made Prior of the Monastery of Saint Mark’s–success was the weapon that would undo him.
Of course, Lorenzo did not act directly in the matter–personally he did not appear at all.
Now the Prior of Saint Mark’s had the handling of large sums of money, the place could really be the home of a prince if the Prior wished to be one, and all he had to do was to follow the wishes of the Magnificent Lorenzo.
“Promote him,” said Lorenzo, “and his zeal will dilute itself, and culture will come to take the place of frenzy. Art is better than austerity, and silken robes and ‘broidered chasubles are preferable to horsehair and rope. A crown looks better than a tonsure.”
And Savonarola became Prior of Saint Mark’s.
Now the first duty, according to established custom, of a newly appointed Prior was to call, in official robes, and pay his respects to Lorenzo, the nominal governor of Florence. It was just a mere form, you know–simply showing the people that Saint Mark’s was still loyal to the State.
Lorenzo appointed a day and sent word that at a certain hour he would be pleased to welcome the Prior, and congratulate him upon his elevation. At the same time the Prior was expected to say mass in the private chapel of the governor, and bestow his blessing upon the House of the Medici.
But Savonarola treated the invitation to call with disdain, and turned the messengers of Lorenzo away with scant courtesy. Instead of joining hands with Lorenzo he preached a sermon at the Cathedral, bitterly arraigning the aristocracy, prophesying their speedy downfall, and beseeching all men who wished to be saved to turn, repent, make restitution and secure the pardon of God, ere it was too late. The sermon shook the city, and other addresses of the same tenor followed daily. It was a “revival,” of the good old Methodist kind–and religious emotion drifting into frenzy is older far than history.
The name of Lorenzo was not mentioned personally, but all saw it was a duel to the death between the plain people and the silken and perfumed rulers. It was the same old fight–personified by Savonarola on one side and Lorenzo on the other.
Lorenzo sunk his pride and went to Saint Mark’s for an interview with the Prior. He found a man of adamant and iron, one blind and deaf to political logic, one who scorned all persuasion and in whose lexicon there was no such word as expediency.
Lorenzo turned away, whipped and disappointed–the prophecies of impending doom had even touched his own stout heart. He was stricken with fever, and the extent of his fear is shown that in his extremity he sent for the Prior of Saint Mark’s to come to his bedside.
Even there, Savonarola was not softened. Before granting absolution to the sick man, he demanded three things:
“First, you must repent and feel a true faith in God, who in His mercy alone can pardon.”
“Second, you must give up your ill-gotten wealth to the people.”
Lorenzo groaned, and finally reluctantly agreed.
“Third, you must restore to Florence her liberty.”
Lorenzo groaned and moaned, and turned his face to the wall.
Savonarola grimly waited half an hour, but no sign coming from the stricken man, he silently went his way.
The next day Lorenzo the Magnificent, aged forty-two, died–died unabsolved.
* * * * *
Lorenzo left three sons. The eldest was Pietro, just approaching his majority, who was the recognized successor of his father. The second son was Giuliano, who had already been made a cardinal at thirteen years of age, and who was destined to be the powerful Pope, Leo X.
The death of Lorenzo had been indirectly foretold by Savonarola, and now some of his disciples were not slow in showing an ill-becoming exultation. They said, “I told you so!” The intensity of the revival increased, and there was danger of its taking on the form of revolution.
Savonarola saw this mob spirit at work, and for a time moderated his tone. But there were now occasional outbreaks between his followers and those of the Medici. A guard was necessary to protect Savonarola as he passed from Saint Mark’s to the different churches where he preached. The police and soldiers were on the side of the aristocracy who supported them.
The Pope had been importuned to use his influence to avert the threatened harm to “true religion.” Savonarola should be silenced, said the aristocrats, and that speedily.
A letter came from Pope Alexander, couched in most gentle and gracious words, requesting Savonarola to come to Rome, and there give exhibition of his wondrous gifts.
Savonarola knew that he was dealing with a Borgia–a man who cajoled, bought and bribed, and when these failed there were noose, knife and poison close at hand. The Prior of Saint Mark’s could deal with Lorenzo in Florence, but with Alexander at Rome he would be undone. The iniquities of the Borgia family far exceeded the sins of the Medici, and in his impassioned moments Savonarola had said as much.
At Rome he would have to explain these things–and to explain them would be to repeat them. Alexander stood for nepotism, which is the sugared essence of that time-honored maxim, “To the victor belong the spoils.” The world has never seen so little religion and so much pretense as during the reign of the Borgias.
At this time when offenders were called to Rome, it sometimes happened that they were never again heard from. Beneath the Castle Saint Angelo were dungeons–no records were kept–and the stories told of human bones found in walled-up cells are no idle tales. An iron collar circling the neck of a skeleton that was once a man is a sight these eyes have seen.
Prison records open to the public are a comparatively new thing, and the practise of “doctoring” a record has, until recently, been quite in vogue.
Savonarola acknowledged the receipt of the Pope’s request, but made excuses, and asked for time.
Alexander certainly did all he could to avoid an open rupture with the Prior of Saint Mark’s. He was inwardly pleased when Savonarola affronted the Medici–it was a thing he dared not do–and if the religious revival could be localized and kept within bounds, all would have been well. It had now gone far enough; if continued, and Rome should behold such scenes as Florence had witnessed, the Holy See itself would not be safe.
Alexander accepted the excuses of Savonarola with much courtesy. Soon word came that the Prior of Saint Mark’s was to be made a cardinal, but the gentle hint went with the message that the red hat was to be in the nature of a reward for bringing about peace at Florence.
Peace! Peace! How could there be peace unless Savonarola bowed his head to the rule of the aristocrats?
His sermons were often interrupted–stones were thrown through the windows when he preached. The pulpit where he was to speak had been filled with filth, and the skin of an ass tacked over the sacred desk. Must he go back?
To the offer of the cardinal’s hat he sent this message: “No hat will I have but that of a martyr, reddened with my own blood.”
The tactics of the Pope now changed; he sent an imperative order that Savonarola should present himself at Rome, and give answer to the charges there made against him.
Savonarola silently scorned the message.
The Pope was still patient. He would waive the insult to himself, if Florence would only manage to take care of her own troubles. But importunities kept coming that Savonarola should be silenced–the power of the man had grown until Florence was absolutely under his subjection. Bonfires of pictures, books and statuary condemned by him had been made in the streets; and the idea was carried to Rome that there was danger of the palaces being pillaged. Florence could deal with the man, but would not so long as he was legally a part of the Church.
Then it was that the Pope issued his Bull of Excommunication, and the order removing Savonarola from his office as Prior of Saint Mark’s.
The answer of Savonarola was a sermon in the form of a defiance. He claimed, and rightly, that he was no heretic–no obligations that the Church asked had he ever disregarded, and therefore the Pope had no right to silence him.
He made his appeal to the rulers of the world, and declared that Alexander was no Pope, because he had deliberately bought his way to the Vatican.
There was now a brief struggle between the authorities of the Pope and those of Florence as to who should have the man. The Pope wanted him to be secretly captured and taken to Rome for trial. Alexander feared the publicity that Florence would give to the matter–he knew a shorter way.
But Florence stood firm. Savonarola had now retired to Saint Mark’s and his followers barricaded the position. The man might have escaped, and the authorities hoped he would, but there he remained, holding the place, and daily preaching to the faithful few who stood by him.
Finally the walls were stormed, and police, soldiers and populace overran the monastery. Savonarola remained passive, and he even reproved several of the monks who, armed with clubs, made stout resistance.
The warrants for arrest called only for Fra Girolamo, Fra Domenico and Fra Silvestro–these last being his most faithful disciples, preaching often in his pulpit and echoing his words.
The prisoners were bound and hurried through the streets toward the Piazza Signoria. The soldiers made a guard of spears and shields around them, but this did not prevent their being pelted with mud and stones.
They were lodged in separate cells, in the prison portion of the Palazzo Vecchio, and each was importuned to recant the charges made against the Pope and the Medici. All refused, even when told that the others had recanted.
Savonarola’s judges were chosen from among his most bitter foes. He was brought before them, and ordered to take back his accusations.
He remained silent.
Threatened, he answered in parable.
He was then taken to the torture-cell, stripped of all clothing, and a thin, strong rope passed under his arms. He was suddenly drawn up, and dropped.
This was repeated until the cord around the man’s body cut the skin and his form was covered with blood.
The physically sensitive nature of the man gave way and he recanted.
Being taken to his cell he repeated all he had said against the Pope, and called aloud, “Lord Jesus, pardon me that I forsook thy truth–it was the torture–I now repeat all I ever said from my pulpit–Lord Jesus, pardon!”
Again he was taken to the torture-chamber and all was gone over as before.
He and his two companions were now formally condemned to death and their day of execution set.
To know the worst is peace–it is uncertainty that kills.
A great calm came over Savonarola–he saw the gates of Heaven opening for him. He was able now to sleep and eat. The great brown eyes beamed with love and benediction, and his hands were raised only in blessing to friend and foe alike.
The day of execution came, and the Piazza Signoria was filled with a vast concourse of people. Every spare foot of space was taken. Platforms had been erected and seats sold for fabulous prices. Every window was filled with faces.
An elevated walk had been built out from the second story of the prison to the executioner’s platform. From this high scaffold rose a great cross with ropes and chains dangling from the arms. Below were piled high heaps of fagots, saturated with oil.
There was a wild exultant yell from the enemies of the men on their appearance, but others of their adversaries appeared dazed at their success, and it seemed for a few moments as if pity would take the place of hate, and the mob would demand the release of the men.
The prisoners walked firmly and conversed in undertone, encouraging each other to stand firm. Each held a crucifix and pressed it to his lips, repeating the creed. Halfway across to the gibbet, they were stopped, the crucifixes torn from their hands, and their priestly robes stripped from them. There they stood, clad only in scant underclothes, in sight of the mob that seethed and mocked. Sharp sticks were thrust up between the crevices of the board walk, so blood streamed from their bare feet.
Having advanced so that they stood beneath the gibbet, their priestly robes were again thrown over them, and once more torn off by a bishop who repeated the words, “Thus do I sever you from the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant!”
“Not the Church Triumphant!” answered Savonarola in a loud voice. “You can not do that.”
In order to prolong the torture of Savonarola, his companions were hanged first, before his eyes.
When his turn came he stepped lightly to his place between the dead and swinging bodies of his brethren. As the executioner was adjusting the cord about his neck, his great tender eyes were raised to heaven and his lips moved in prayer as the noose tightened.
The chains were quickly fastened about the bodies to hold them in place, and scarcely had the executioner upon the platform slid down the ladders, than the waiting torches below fired the pile and the flames shot heavenward and licked the great cross where the three bodies swayed.
The smoke soon covered them from view.
Then suddenly there came a gust of wind that parted the smoke and flames, and the staring mob, now silent, saw that the fire had burned the thongs that bound the arms of Savonarola. One hand was uplifted in blessing and benediction.
So died Savonarola.