Church of Santa Croce

Church of Santa Croce
Church of Santa Croce

Until I checked it out before writing this post, I could have sworn that “Santa Croce,” as in the Church of Santa Croce in Florence, was pronounced “Santa Crotch-eh.” With that in mind, I was going to make some irreverent and inappropriate jokes about the genitals of a Canadian Santa Claus being venerated in the Church of Santa Croce. Fortunately, rather than risk making myself look even more foolish than such juvenile jokes would have made me look, I thought I should verify the pronunciation first. It turns out I was wrong.


According to a couple of sources on the Web (here and here) the Italian word croce is not pronounced crotch-eh, but rather more like crow-chay or maybe croach-eh. And, as everyone knows, if it’s on the Web at least twice it must be true. So much for the pubescent jokes. Let’s move on and forgive and forget such silliness, shall we?

Michelangelo's tomb
Michelangelo’s tomb

If you’re in Florence you should definitely try to find time to visit the Church of Santa Croce, if not to be impressed by the architecture of the building and the paintings and sculptures adorning it (and they are very impressive), then to be absolutely gobsmacked by the people whose remains are interred there. Some of the most historically famous Italians are “buried” there. (Sorry, Silvio Berlusconi, I seriously doubt you’ll get a place there when you die. But, cheer up, I’ve been wrong about that sort of thing before.) I put “buried” in quotes because they aren’t underground. They are in beautifully carved and decorated tombs in and jutting out from the walls.

Walking around Santa Croce I saw the tombs of Gioachino Rossini, Niccolò Machiavelli, Galileo Galilei and Michelangelo Buonarroti. Before visiting the church I already knew that the last name of Galileo, the famous Renaissance scientist, was Galilei. However, I sheepishly admit that until then I didn’t know that Michelangelo had a last name, let alone that it was Buonarroti. (Now that I’ve admitted that, my art historian sister will think even less of me than she already did. I hope she never reads this.)

Galileo's tomb
Galileo’s tomb

Before my visit to Santa Croce I honestly thought that Michelangelo had only one name like some other famous people, such as Cher and Madonna. But there was his name on his tomb right in front of me in the church. Have I used the word gobsmacked yet? Whether or not I have, it bears repeating.

Some lesser known, but still noteworthy Italians are also interred in sepulchres in Santa Croce. In addition, there are grand monuments to Dante, Guglielmo Marconi and Enrico Fermi in the church, however those three people are buried elsewhere—Dante in Ravenna, Italy, Marconi near Bologna, Italy and Fermi in Chicago, Illinois, USA.

Painting in church of Santa Croce
Painting in church of Santa Croce

A small chapel to the right of the altars housed some brilliant paintings. By brilliant, I mean the colours were bright and of high-contrast. I assume the paintings recently underwent cleaning and restoration because these were mostly sixteenth century works. Anything that old is going to get a little grimy if not cleaned. For example, I’m not nearly that old and I tend to get grimy after a few days if not cleaned.

I don’t want to make an issue of this, as I don’t think it deserves to be, but one picture in the Medici Chapel (Of the Novices) some female nipples. Whatever happened to the rule about dressing modestly. To enter one of the venerable old churches in Florence, people—real, living, modern day people, not now dead people depicted in paintings—are usually required to have their shoulders must be covered and, if they wear shorts, skirts or dresses, they must be of a respectable and respectful length, whatever the hell that means. An exposed nipple would probably get a woman thrown out of the church on her, well, whatever. Yet here’s a picture proudly hung in a chapel in the church displaying a bare female breast or two. How is that consistent?

Another painting in Santa Croce
Another painting in Santa Croce

At least there were no fully exposed crotches. If there had been, I would have reverted to my original thinking on the pronunciation of Croce—and assumed that pronunciation was indicative of its English translation. And my thinking about the nature of the church would have changed; not necessarily for the worse. (Damn! Did I just say that out loud?)

Out in a peaceful, grassy courtyard to one side of the church’s main building stood a statue of a classical, friendly, bearded old fellow wearing flowing robes sitting and waving hello. At least I think he was waving hello. Maybe he was waving us out out the place so he could have some privacy. It’s really hard to say. The person immortalized in the statue seemed rather scholarly because he was holding a book. Then again, he’s not reading the book, so it’s entirely possible that the subject was illiterate. There was some text chiseled into the pedestal that the statue was sitting on, but it was in Italian and I don’t have the foggiest idea what it said, except that it ended with two dates: 1915-1918. That is certainly before my time (yeah, really), but hardly Renaissance era. Considering the rest of the church, I felt a bit cheated by that.

On left side of courtyard there’s a separate chapel (at least I think it was a chapel, it might have just be an plain, old, non-sanctified room; i’m not sure) that contained more Renaissance artwork.

Summary: If you’re in Florence, go to the Church of Santa Croce for the art and architecture, stay for the famous dead people. Or the other way around. It’s up to you.

Been there? Done that? Do tell.