The Dominican Friar Girolamo Savonarola and two other Dominicans were hanged and burned on May 23, 1498, in Florence. Though he was a friar and not a Florentine citizen, Savonarola was a major voice in promoting republican values in the city.
He got into trouble with the Pope because of his critiques of papal corruption and his opposition to papal rule in Italy. Though his followers managed to take control of Florentine politics for a short time, he fell out of favor – possibly because of the rather puritanical practices which he promoted (including the “bonfire of the vanities”), but also because of the vagaries of politics in Florence.
Last January I read an historical novel on Florence in Savonarola’s day and was astounded by the intrigue within the various ruling parties of Florence and also in the Vatican.
But Savonarola, no matter what his faults, sought an end to corruption and championed values of government not beholden to rich families. In his fiery sermons he called on Florence to be an example of a just and holy city. He also called for the reform of the papacy which, at that time, was corrupt, to put it mildly.
His memory is preserved in Florence with a plaque at the site of his execution.
There is also a statue of Savonarola in the church of San Marco and you can visit his cell in the adjoining San Marco Museum which was the Dominican friary where he lived.
Excommunicated and burned at the stake, he might be considered a martyr to the truth. Who knows?
In the midst of troubled times, he dared to challenge the powers that be – ecclesial, governmental, and economic. Would there were more people willing to speak out.
They, however, might also get “burned.”