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  • Writer's pictureBen West

A Brief History of Santa Trìnita in Florence

What is Santa Trìnita?

Santa Trìnita is a church founded in the 11th century that contains fabulous frescoes by Domenico Ghirlandaio.

Santa Trinita

LivornoDP, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Santa Trìnita History

This historic basilica is one of Florence’s most prominent churches. Located here in the centre of the city, it was the mother church of the Vallumbrosan Roman Catholic order of monks, founded by a Florentine nobleman called Giovanni Gualberto in 1038. It was no holiday being one of them – lifelong vows of complete silence and absolute poverty were strictly enforced. And not only that: the monks would be beaten if they broke rules or ever left the monastery.

The current building was constructed in the mid-13th century on the site of a pre-existing church and is renowned for its stunning 15th-century frescoes depicting the life and miracles of Saint Francis. Situated in the church’s Sassetti Chapel (named after Francesco Sassetti, manager of the Medici bank), these works are by the famed Renaissance painter Domenico Ghirlandaio, one of Michelangelo’s teachers. The vibrant frescoes portraying the gentle saint are considered by many to be his masterwork, and they reference contemporary places and people of Florence, including portraits of Lorenzo de’ Medici and the future Pope Leo X. In the scene above the altar, known as The Resurrection of the Boy, you’ll see a child sitting upright on a bed of Middle Eastern textiles, whilst Saint Francis appears as an apparition in the sky. The figure in the green clothes with a red cloak on the left-hand side of the painting is thought to be a self-portrait of Ghirlandaio.

The church has a number of other chapels, many containing further masterworks. One of the most prominent is the Bartolini Salimbeni Chapel, which contains frescoes by late-Gothic and early-Renaissance painter Lorenzo Monaco. They are some of the few surviving International Gothic works remaining in Italy. The High Gothic style, with stylised figures, is used for the Annunciation altarpiece, but the frescoes on the walls reflect the newly emerging Renaissance style, featuring more natural-looking figures.

With reconstruction taking place repeatedly over the centuries, the church features a variety of architectural styles. For example, the façade was rebuilt in the 1590s in the Mannerist style by the multi-talented Bernardo Buontalenti who, as well as being an architect, designed stage scenery and costumes, orchestrated firework displays and undertook military engineering projects.

As you enter, behind you is some Romanesque stonework, while the wooden doors date from the 17th century, carved in tribute to the Vallumbrosan patron saints. This is a church that displays an extraordinarily rich and varied assembly of architectural and artistic forms from many eras.

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