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From The Cornhill Magazine, Volume XXXI, 1875; pp. 54-65.



By John A. Symonds

Religious Revivals in Medieval Italy

One of the most remarkable characteristics of early Italian history is the influence which great preachers exerted over the populations of whole cities, and the frequent outbursts of fanatical revivalism to which the most highly cultivated nation of the Middle Ages was liable. The Italians have never revealed any great depth of moral earnestness or spiritual enthusiasm. That renaissance of Christianity, which we call the Reformation, could not have proceeded from a Latin people. To free the modern world from the mythology, the material symbolism, the scholastic pedantry, and the hierarchical despotism of the Middle Ages; to simplify religion by returning to the spirit of the Gospel, and to open a new sphere of intellectual energy by the emancipation of the conscience, was the work of the German nation. The Italians had their task assigned them in the field of art and culture. Yet, in spite of their incapacity for any fundamental revolutionary movement, the imagination of the Italians, easily affected by tragic circumstance, as well as by personal ability in demagogues and orators, exposed them to frequently recurring paroxysms of devotional excitement. Great national calamities, like the passing through their cities of the plague, or the anticipation of foreign invasion — the feuds of their noble houses, and the fierce civil discords which rent their towns — were occasions on which preaching friars and hermits seized. The fancy of the people was then suddenly excited. Processions streamed through the streets and churches, singing penitential psalms and crying Mercy. Old enemies embraced with tears, and swore eternal friendship. Evil-doers vowed to abandon their bad habits and assumed the cowl. Bonfires were lighted on the public squares; cards, false hair, cosmetics, dice, profane books, lewd pictures, and all the articles of a vain luxury were committed to the flames. The paroxysm passed away, and the people returned with incurable levity to their old feuds and their accustomed vices. Yet this did not prevent a repetition of the same theatrical display upon the next occasion, when a monk, with resonant voice and flashing eyes, ascended the pulpit, and called upon the people to repent.

It would be unscientific to confound events of such European importance as the foundation of the orders of St. Francis and St. Dominic with the phenomena in question. Still it may be remarked, that the sudden rise and the extraordinary ascendancy of the mendicants and preachers were due in a great measure to the sensitive and lively imagination of the Italians. The Popes of the first half of the thirteenth century were 55 shrewd enough to discern the political and ecclesiastical importance of movements, which seemed at first to owe their force to mere fanatical revivalism. They calculated on the intensely excitable temperament of the Italian nation, and employed the Franciscans and Dominicans as their militia in the crusade against the Empire and the heretics. Again, it is necessary to distinguish what was essentially national from what was common to all Europeans in the Middle Ages. Every country had its wandering hordes of flagellants and penitents, its crusaders and its pilgrims. The vast unsettled populations of medieval Europe, haunted with the recurrent instinct of migration, and nightmare-ridden by imperious religious yearnings, poured flood after flood of fanatics upon the shores of Palestine. Half-naked savages roamed, dancing and groaning and scourging their flesh, from city to city, under the stress of semi-bestial impulses. Then came the period of organized pilgrimages. The celebrated shrines of Europe — Rome, Compostella, Monte Gargano, Canterbury — acted like lightning-conductors to the tempestuous devotion of the medieval races, like setons to their overcharged imagination. In all these universal movements the Italians had their share; though being more advanced in civilization than the Northern peoples, they turned the crusades to commercial account, and maintained some moderation in the fakir fury of their piety. It is not, therefore, with the general history of religious enthusiasm in the Middle Ages that we have to do, but rather with those intermittent manifestations of revivalism which were peculiar to the Italians. The chief points to be noticed are the political influence acquired by monks in some of the Italian cities, the preaching of peace and moral reformation, the panics of superstitious terror which seized upon wide districts, and the personal ascendancy of hermits unaccredited by the Church, but believed by the people to be divinely inspired.

One of the most picturesque figures of the first half of the thirteenth century is the Dominican monk, John of Vicenza. His order, which had recently been founded, was already engaged in the work of persecution. France was reeking with the slaughter of the Albigenses, and the stakes were smoking in the town of Milan, when this friar undertook the noble task of pacifying Lombardy. Every town in the north of Italy was at that period torn by the factions of the Guelfs and Ghibelines; private feuds crossed and intermingled with political discords; and the savage tyranny of Ezzelino had shaken the fabric of society to its foundations. It seemed utterly impossible to bring this people for a moment to agreement. Yet what popes and princes had failed to achieve, the voice of a single friar accomplished. John of Vicenza began his preaching in Bologna during the year 1283. The citizens and the country folk of the surrounding districts flocked to hear him. It was noticed with especial wonder that soldiers of all descriptions yielded to the magic of his eloquence. The themes of his discourse were invariably reconciliation and forgiveness of injuries. The heads of rival houses, who had prosecuted hereditary feuds for generations, met before his pulpit, and swore to live 56 thenceforth in amity. Even the magistrates entreated him to examine the statutes of their city, and to point out any alterations by which the peace of the commonwealth might be assured. Having done his best for Bologna, John journeyed to Padua, where the fame of his sanctity had been already spread abroad. The carroccio of the city, on which the standard of Padua floated, and which had led the burghers to many a bloody battle, was sent out to meet him at Monselice, and he entered the gates in triumph. In Padua the same exhortations to peace produced the same results. Old enmities were abandoned, and hands were clasped which had often been raised in fierce fraternal conflict. Treviso, Feltre, Belluno, Conegliano, and Romano, the very nests of the fierce brood of Ezzelino, yielded to the charm. Verona, where the Scalas were about to reign, Vicenza, Mantua, and Brescia, all placed themselves at the disposition of the monk, and prayed him to reform their constitution. But it was not enough to restore peace to each separate community, to reconcile household with household, and to efface the miseries of civil discord. John of Vicenza aimed at consolidating the Lombard cities in one common bond. For this purpose he bade the burghers of all the towns where he had preached, to meet him on the plain of Paquara, in the country of Verona. The 28th of August was the day fixed for this great national assembly. More than four hundred thousand persons, according to the computation of Parisio di Cereta, appeared upon the scene. This multitude included the populations of Verona, Mantua, Brescia, Padua, and Vicenza, marshalled under their several standards, together with contingents furnished by Ferrara, Modena, Reggio, Parma, and Bologna. Nor was the assembly confined to the common folk. The bishops of these flourishing cities, the haughty Marquis of Este, the fierce lord of Romano, and the Patriarch of Aquileia, obeyed the invitation of the friar. There, on the banks of the Adige, and within sight of the Alps, John of Vicenza ascended a pulpit that had been prepared for him, and preached a sermon on the text, “Pacem meam do vobis, pacem relinquo vobis.” The horrors of war, and the Christian duty of reconciliation, formed the subject of his sermon, at the end of which he constrained the Lombards to ratify a solemn league of amity, vowing to eternal perdition all who should venture to break the same, and imprecating curses on their crops, their vines, their cattle, and everything they had. Furthermore, he induced the Marquis of Este to take in marriage a daughter of Alberico da Romano. Up to this moment John of Vicenza had made a noble use of the strange power which he possessed. But his success seems to have turned his head. Instead of confining himself to the work of pacification so well begun, he now demanded to be made lord of Vicenza, with the titles of Duke and Count, and to receive the supreme authority in Verona. The people, believing him to be a saint, readily acceded to his wishes; but one of the first things he did, after altering the statutes of these burghs, was to burn sixty citizens of Verona, whom he had himself condemned as heretics. The Paduans revolted against his tyranny. Obliged to have recourse to arms, 57 he was beaten and put in prison; and when he was released, at the intercession of the Pope, he found his wonderful prestige annihilated.1

The position of Fra Jacopo del Bussolaro in Pavia differed from that of Fra Giovanni da Vicenza in Verona. Yet the commencement of his political authority was very nearly the same. The son of a poor box-maker of Pavia, he early took the habit of the Augustines, and acquired a reputation for sanctity by leading the austere life of a hermit. It happened in the year 1356 that he was commissioned by the superiors of his order to preach the Lenten sermons to the people of Pavia. “Then,” to quote Matteo Villani, “it pleased God that this monk should make his sermons so agreeable to every species of people, that the fame of them and the devotion they inspired increased marvellously. And he, seeing the concourse of the people, and the faith they bare him, began to denounce vice, and specially usury, revenge, and ill-behaviour of women; and thereupon he began to speak against the disorderly lordship of the tyrants: and in a short time he brought the women to modest manners, and the men to renunciation of usury and feuds.” The only citizens of Pavia who resisted his eloquence were the Beccaria family, who at that time ruled Pavia like despots. His most animated denunciations were directed against their extortions and excesses. Therefore they sought to slay him. But the people gave him a body-guard, and at last he wrought so powerfully with the burghers that they expelled the house of Beccaria and established a republican government. At this time the Visconti were laying siege to Pavia: the passes of the Ticino and the Po were occupied by Milanese troops, and the city was reduced to a state of blockade. Fra Jacopo assembled the able-bodied burghers, animated them by his eloquence, and led them to the attack of their besiegers. They broke through the lines of the beleaguering camp, and re-established the freedom of Pavia. What remained, however, of the Beccaria party passed over to the enemy, and threw the whole weight of their influence into the scale of the Visconti: so that at the end of a three years’ manful conflict, Pavia was delivered to Galeazzo Visconti in 1359. Fra Jacopo made the best terms that he could for the city, and took no pains to secure his own safety. He was consigned by the conquerors to the superiors of his order, and died in the dungeons of a convent at Vercelli. In his case, the sanctity of an austere life, and the eloquence of an authoritative preacher of repentance, had been strictly subordinated to political aims in the interests of republican liberty. Fra Jacopo deserves to rank with Savonarola: like Savonarola, he fell a victim to the selfish and immoral oppressors of his country. As in the case of Savonarola, we can trace the connection which subsisted in Italy between a high standard of morality and patriotic heroism.2


San Bernardino da Massa heads a long list of preachers, who, without taking a prominent part in contemporary politics, devoted all their energies to the moral regeneration of the people. His life, written by Vespasiano da Bisticci, is one of the most valuable documents which we possess for the religious history of Italy in the first half of the fifteenth century. His parents, who were people of good condition, sent him at an early age to study the Canon law at Siena. They designed him for a lucrative and important office in the Church. But, while yet a youth, he was seized with a profound conviction of the degradation of his countrymen. The sense of sin so weighed upon him that he sold all his substance, entered the order of St. Francis, and began to preach against the vices which were flagrant in the great Italian cities. After travelling through the length and breadth of the peninsula, and winning all men by the magic of his eloquence, he came to Florence. “There,” says Vespasiano, “the Florentines being by nature very well disposed indeed to truth, he so dealt that he changed the whole State and gave it, one may say, a second birth. And in order to abolish the false hair which the women wore, and games of chance, and other vanities, he caused a sort of large stall to be raised in the Piazza di Santa Croce, and bade every one who possessed any of these vanities to place them there; and so they did; and he set fire thereto and burned the whole.” San Bernardino preached unremittingly for forty-two years in every quarter of Italy, and died at last worn out with fatigue and sickness: “of many enmities and deaths of men he wrought peace and removed deadly hatreds; and numberless princes, who harboured feuds to the death, he reconciled, and restored tranquillity to many cities and peoples.” A vivid picture of the method adopted by San Bernardino in his dealings with these cities is presented to us by Graziani, the chronicler of Perugia. “On September 28, 1425, a Sunday, there were, as far as we, could reckon, upwards of 8,000 persons in the Cathedral. His sermon was from the Sacred Scripture, reproving men of every vice and sin, and teaching Christian living. Then he began to rebuke the women for their paints and cosmetics, and false hair and such like wanton customs; and in like manner the men for their cards and dice-boards and masks and amulets and charms: insomuch that within a fortnight the women sent all their false hair and gewgaws to the Convent of St. Francis, and the men their dice, cards, and such gear, to the amount of many loads. And on October 29 Fra Bernardino collected all these devilish things on the piazza, where he erected a kind of wooden castle between the fountain and the Bishop’s Palace; and in this he put all the said articles, and set fire to them; and the fire was so great that none durst go near; and in the fire were burned things of the greatest value, and so great was the haste of men and women to escape that fire that many would have perished but for the quick aid of the burghers.” Together with this onslaught upon vanities, Fra Bernardino connected the preaching of peace and amity. It is noticeable that while his sermon lasted and the great bell of San Lorenzo 59 went on tolling, no man could be taken or imprisoned in the city of Perugia.3

The same city was the scene of many similar displays. During the fifteenth century it remained in a state of the most miserable internal discord owing to the feuds of its noble families. Graziani gives an account of the preaching there of Fra Jacopo della Marca, in 1445. On this occasion a temporary truce was patched up between old enemies, a witch was burned for the edification of the burghers, the people were reproved for their extravagance in dress, and two peacemakers (pacieri) were appointed for each gate. On March 22, after undergoing this discipline, the whole of Perugia seemed to have repented of its sins; but the first entry for April 15, is the murder of one of the Ranieri family by another of the same house. So transitory were the effects of such revivals.4 Another entry in Graziani’s Chronicle deserves to be noticed. He describes how, in 1448, Fra Roberto da Lecce (like San Bernardino and Fra Jacopo della Marca, a Franciscan of the Order of Observance) came to preach in January. He was only twenty-two years of age; but his fame was so great that he drew about 15,000 persons into the piazza to listen to him. The stone pulpit, we may say in passing, is still shown, from which these sermons were delivered. It is built into the wall of the Cathedral, and commands the whole square. Roberto da Lecce began by exhibiting a crucifix, which moved the audience to tears; “and the weeping and crying, Jesu misericordia! lasted about half an hour. Then he made four citizens be chosen for each gate as peacemakers.” What follows in Graziani is an account of a theatrical show, exhibited upon the steps of the Cathedral. On Good Friday the friar assembled all the citizens, and preached; and when the moment came for the elevation of the crucifix, “there issued from San Lorenzo Eliseo di Christoforo, a barber of the quarter of Sant Angelo, like a naked Christ with the cross on his shoulder, and the crown of thorns upon his head, and his flesh seemed to be bruised as when Christ was scourged.” The people were immensely moved by this sight. They groaned and cried out, “Misericordia!” (double dagger) and many monks were made upon the spot. At last, on April 7, Fra Roberto took his leave of the Perugians, crying as he went, “La pace sia con voi!5 We have a glimpse of the same Fra Roberto da Lecce at Rome, in the year 1482. The feuds of the noble families della Croce and della Valle were then raging in the streets of Rome. On the night April 8 they fought a pitched battle in the neighbourhood of the Pantheon, the factions of Orsini and Colonna joining in the fray. Many of the combatants were left dead before the palaces of the Vallensi; the numbers of the wounded were variously estimated; and all Rome seemed to be upon the verge of civil war. Roberto da Lecce, who was drawing large congregations, not only of the common folk, but also of the Roman 60 prelates, to his sermons at Santa Maria sopra Minerva, interrupted his discourse upon the following Friday, and held before the people the image of their crucified Saviour, entreating them to make peace. As he pleaded with them, he wept; and they too fell to weeping — fierce satellites of the rival factions and worldly prelates lifting up their voice in concert with the friar who had touched their hearts.6 Another member of the Franciscan Order of Observance should be mentioned after Fra Roberto. This was Fra Giovanni da Capistrano, of whose preaching at Brescia in 1451 we have received a minute account. He brought with him a great reputation for sanctity and eloquence, and for the miraculous cures which he had wrought. The Rectors of the city, together with 800 of the most distinguished burghers upon horseback, and a crowd of well-born ladies on foot, went out to meet him on February 9. Arrangements were made for the entertainment of himself and 100 followers, at public cost. Next morning, three hours before dawn, there were already assembled upwards of 10,000 people on the piazza, waiting for the preacher. “Think, therefore,” says the Chronicle, “how many there must have been in the daytime! and mark this, that they came less to hear his sermon than to see him.” As he made his way through the throng, his frock was almost torn to pieces on his back, everybody struggling to get a fragment.7

It did not always need the interposition of a friar to arouse a strong religious panic in Italian cities. After an unusually fierce bout of discord the burghers themselves would often attempt to give the sanction of solemn rites and vows before the altar to their temporary truces. Siena, which was always more disturbed by civil strife than any of her neighbours, offered a notable example of this custom in the year 1494. The factions of the Monti de’ Nove and del Popolo had been raging; the city was full of feud and suspicion, and all Italy was agitated by the French invasion. It seemed good, therefore, to the heads of the chief parties that an oath of peace should be taken by the whole body of the burghers. Allegretti’s account of the ceremony, which took place at dead of night in the beautiful Cathedral of Siena, is worthy to be translated. “The conditions of the peace were then read, which took up eight pages, together with an oath of the most horrible sort, full of maledictions, imprecations, excommunications, invocations of evil, renunciation of benefits temporal and spiritual, confiscation of goods, vows, and so many other woes that to hear it was terror; . . et etiam that in articulo mortis no sacrament should accrue to the salvation, but rather to the damnation of those who might break the said conditions; in so much that I, Allegretto di Nanni Allegretti, being present, believe that never was made or heard a more awful and horrible oath. Then the notaries of the Nove and the Popolo, on either side of the altar, wrote down the names of all the citizens, who swore upon the crucifix, for on each side there was one, and every couple of the one and the other faction 61 kissed; and the bells clashed, and Deum laudamus was sung with the organs and the choir while the oath was being taken. All this happened between one and two hours of the night, with many torches lighted. Now may God will that this be peace indeed, and tranquillity for all citizens, whereof I doubt.”8 The doubt of Allegretti was but too reasonable. Siena profited little by these dreadful oaths and terrifying functions. Two years later on, the same chronicler tells how it was believed that blood had rained outside the Porta a Laterino, and that various visions of saints and spectres had appeared to holy persons, proclaiming changes in the state, and commanding a public demonstration of repentance. Each parish organized a procession, and all in turn marched, some by day and some by night, singing Litanies, and beating and scourging themselves, to the Cathedral, where they dedicated candles; and “one ransomed prisoners, for an offering, and another dowered a girl in marriage.” In Bologna in 1457 a similar revival took place on the occasion of an outbreak of the plague. “Flagellants went round the city, and when they came to a cross, they all cried with a loud voice: ’Misericordia ! misericordia!’ For eight days there was a strict fast; the butchers shut their shops.” Ferrara exhibited a like devotion in 1496, on even a larger scale. About this time the entire Italian nation was panic-stricken by the passage of Charles VIII., and by the changes in states and kingdoms which Savonarola had predicted. The Ferrarese, to quote the language of their chronicler, expected that “in this year, throughout Italy, would be the greatest famine, war, and want that had ever been since the world began.” Therefore they fasted, and “the Duke of Ferrara fasted together with the whole of his court.” At the same time a proclamation was made against swearing, games of hazard, and unlawful trades; and it was enacted that the Jews should resume their obnoxious yellow gaberdine with the O upon their breasts. In 1500 these edicts were repeated. The condition of Italy had grown worse and worse; it was necessary to besiege the saints with still more energetic demonstrations. Therefore “the Duke Ercole da Este, for good reasons to him known, and because it is always well to be on good terms with God, ordained that processions should be made every third day in Ferrara, with the whole clergy, and about 4,000 children or more from twelve years of age upwards, dressed in white, and each holding a banner with a painted Jesus. His lordship, and his sons and brothers, followed this procession, namely, the Duke on horseback, because he could not then walk, and all the rest on foot, behind the Bishop.” A certain amount of irony transpires in this quotation, which would make one fancy that the chronicler suspected the Duke of ulterior, and perhaps political motives.9 It sometimes happened that the contagion of such devotion spread from city to city; on one occasion, in 1899, it travelled from Piedmont through the whole of Italy. The epidemic of flagellants, 62 392 of which Giovanni Villani speaks in 1310 (lib. viii. cap. 121), began also in Piedmont, and spread along the Genoese Riviera. The Florentine authorities refused entrance to these fanatics into their territory. In 1334 Villani mentions another outburst of the same devotion (lib. xi. cap. 28), which was excited by the preaching of Fra Venturino da Bergamo. The penitents on this occasion wore for badge a dove with the olive branch. They stayed fifteen days in Florence, scourging themselves before the altars of the Dominican churches, and feasting, five hundred at a time, in the Piazza di S. M. Novella. Corio, in the Storia di Milano (p. 281), gives an interesting account of these “white penitents,” as they were called in the year 1399. “Multitudes of men, women, girls, boys, small and great, townspeople and countryfolk, nobles and burghers, laity and clergy, with bare feet and dressed in white sheets from head to foot,” visited the towns and villages of every district in succession. “On their journey, when they came to a cross-road or to crosses, they threw themselves on the ground, crying ‘Misericordia’ three times; then they recited the Lord’s Prayer and the Ave Mary. On their entrance into a city, they walked singing Stabat Mater dolorosa and other litanies and prayers. The population of the places to which they came were divided; for some went forth and told those who stayed that they should assume the same habit, so that at one time there were as many as 10,000, and at another as many as 15,000 of them.” After admitting that the fruit of this devotion was in many cases penitence, and amity, and almsgiving, Corio goes on to observe: “However, men returned to a worse life than ever after it was over.” It is noticeable that Italy was devastated in 1400 by a horrible plague; and it is impossible not to believe that the crowding of so many penitents together on the highways and in the cities led to this result.

During the anarchy of Italy between 1494 (the date of the invasion of Charles VIII.) and 1527 (the date of the sack of Rome) the voice of preaching friars and hermits was often raised, and the effect was always to drive the people to a frenzy of revivalistic piety. Milan was the centre of the military operations of the French, the Swiss, the Spaniards, and the Germans. No city suffered more cruelly, and in none were fanatical prophets received with greater superstition. In 1516 there appeared in Milan “a layman, large of stature, gaunt, and beyond measure wild, without shoes, without shirt, bareheaded, with bristly hair and beard, and so thin that he seemed another Julian the hermit.̶ He lived on water and millet-seed, slept on the bare earth, refused alms of all sorts, and preached with wonderful authority. In spite of the opposition of the Archbishop and Chapter, he chose the Duomo for his theatre; and there he denounced the vices of the priests and monks to vast congregations of eager listeners. In a word, he engaged in open warfare with the clergy on their own ground. But they of course proved too strong for him, and he was driven out of the city. He was a native of Siena, aged 80.10 We 63 may compare with this picturesque apparition of Jeronimo in Milan what Varchi says about the prophets who haunted Rome like birds of evil omen in the first years of the pontificate of Clement VII. “Not only friars from the pulpit, but hermits on the piazza, went about preaching and predicting the ruin of Italy and the end of the world with wild cries and threats.”11 In 1523 Milan beheld the spectacle of a parody of the old preachers. There appeared a certain Frate di San Marco, whom the people held for a saint, and who “encouraged the Milanese against the French, saying it was a merit with Jesus Christ to slay those Frenchmen, and that they were pigs.” He seems to have been a feeble and ignorant fellow, whose head had been turned by the examples of Bussolaro and Savonarola.12 Again, in 1529, we find a certain monk, Tommaso, of the order of St. Dominic, stirring up a great commotion of piety in Milan. The city had been brought to the very lowest state of misery by the Spanish occupation; and, strange to say, this friar was himself a Spaniard. In order to propitiate offended deities, he organised a procession on a great scale. 700 women, 500 men, and 2,500 children, assembled in the Cathedral. The children were dressed in white, the men and women in sackcloth, and all were barefooted. They promenaded the streets of Milan, incessantly shouting Misericordia! and besieged the Duomo with the same dismal cry, the Bishop and the Municipal authorities of Milan taking part in the devotion.13 These gusts of penitential piety were matters of real national importance. Writers imbued with the classic spirit of the Renaissance thought them worthy of a place in their philosophical histories. Thus we find Pitti, in the Storia Florentina (Arch. Stor. vol. i. p. 112), describing what happened at Florence in 1514: — “There appeared in Santa Croce a frate Francesco da Montepulciano, very young, who rebuked vice with severity, and affirmed that God had willed to scourge Italy, especially Florence and Rome, in sermons so terrible that the audience kept crying with floods of tears, Misericordia! The whole people was struck dumb with horror, for those who could not hear the friar by reason of the crowd, listened with no less fear to the reports of others. At last he preached a sermon so awful that the congregation stood like men who had lost their senses; for he promised to reveal upon the third day how and from what source he had received this prophecy. However, when he left the pulpit, worn out and exhausted, he was seized with an illness of the lungs, which soon put an end to his life.” Pitti goes on to relate the frenzy of revivalism excited by this monk’s preaching, which had roused all the old memories of Savonarola in Florence. It became necessary for the Bishop to put down the devotion by special edicts, while the Medici endeavoured to distract the minds of the people by tournaments and public shows.


Enough has now been quoted from various original sources to illustrate the feverish recurrences of superstitious panics in Italy during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The biography of Savonarola has been purposely omitted. It will, however, be observed, from what has been said about John of Vicenza, Jacopo del Bussolaro, San Bernardino, Roberto da Lecce, Giovanni della Marca, and Fra Capistrano, that Savonarola was by no means an extraordinary phenomenon in Italian history. Combining the methods and the aims of all these men, and remaining within the sphere of their conceptions, he impressed a rôle, which had been often played in the chief Italian towns, with the stamp of his peculiar genius. It was a source of weakness to him in his combat with Alexander VI., that he could not rise above the monastic ideal of the prophet, which prevailed in Italy, or grasp one of those regenerative conceptions which formed the motive force of the Reformation. The inherent defects of all Italian revivals, spasmodic in their paroxysms, vehement while they lasted, but transient in their effects, are exhibited upon a tragic scale by Savonarola. What strikes us, after studying the records of these movements in Italy, is chiefly their want of true mental energy. The momentary effect produced in great cities like Florence, Milan, Verona, Pavia, Bologna, and Perugia, is quite out of proportion to the slight intellectual power exerted by the prophet in each case. He has nothing really new or life-giving to communicate. He preaches indeed the duty of repentance and charity, institutes a reform of glaring moral abuses, and works as forcibly as he can upon the imagination of his audience. But he sets no current of fresh thought in motion. Therefore, when his personal influence was once forgotten, he left no mark upon the nation he so deeply agitated. We can only wonder that, in many cases, he obtained so complete an ascendancy in the political world. All this is as true of Savonarola as it is of San Bernardino. It is this which removes him so immeasurably from Huss, from Wesley, and from Luther.

J. A. S.


  1  The most interesting accounts of Fra Giovanni da Vicenza are to be found in Muratori, vol. viii., in the Annals of Rolandini and Gerardus Maurisius.

  2  The best authorities for the life and actions of Fra Jacopo are Matteo Villani, bks. 8 and 9, and Peter Azarius, in his Chronicle (Grævius, vol. ix.).

  3  See Vespasiano, Vite di Uomini Illustri, pp. 185-192. Graziani, Archivio Storico, vol. xvi. part i. pp. 313, 314.

  4  See Graziani, pp. 565-568.

  5  Graziani, pp. 597-601.

  6  See ‘Jacobus Volaterranns.’ Muratori, xxiii. pp. 126, 166, 167.

  7  See ‘Istori a Bresciana.’ Muratori, xxi. 865.

  8  See Muratori, vol. xxiii, p. 839.

  9  See ‘Diaro Ferrarese.’ Muratori, xiv. pp. 17-386.

 10  See “Prato” and “Burigozzo,” Arch. Stor. vol. iii. pp. 357, 431.

11  Storia Florentina, vol. i. p. 87.

12  Arch. Stor. vol. iii. p. 443.

13  Burigozzo, pp. 485-489.


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