Nativity of the Virgin Mary 2023 Celebrations


Florence’s Cathedral, Bell Tower and Baptistery courtesy Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, photo Fabio Muzzi

Sept. 8: Special events for the Nativity of the Virgin Mary.  Piazza del Duomo, Florence.

Florence’s Cathedral, or Duomo, Santa Maria del Fiore (St. Mary of the Flower), is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The cornerstone of the present Cathedral was laid on Sept. 8, 1296, the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary.

The residents of the Florence metropolitan area can and the towns in the greater metropolitan area can visit the Opera del Duomo Cathedral Museum (see article here), the Baptistery and the crypt of Santa Reparata free of charge on September 8.  To do so, residents with either with theirs identity card (carta d’identità), need to pick up a free ticket (Giglio Pass) at the office located either at Piazza San Giovanni 7 or Piazza del Duomo 14/A) valid for that day only.

Santa Reparata was a young martyr in Palestine, and became Florence’s first patron saint in 250 AD. When Ostrogoth barbarians besieged the city in 405 AD, Bishop Zanobi (now Saint Zenobius of Florence) called the citizens to defend their city. A vision of Santa Reparata appeared in the sky, a sign of divine protection. The Florentines were then able to drive out the barbarians, and beginning in the sixth century, a basilica was built and dedicated to her.

The crypt of Santa Reparata is all that remains of the original basilica, found below the present Cathedral, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio and begun in 1296. Noteworthy sights in the crypt include the tomb of Brunelleschi, relics of Saint Zenobius, and glimpses into Early Christian architecture and design.  In 2017 a Paleochristian mosaic floor in the crypt was uncovered, with glorious decorations dating back to before the 3rd century A.D., which today’s visitors can view.

Dante Alighieri, whose own baptism took place in San Giovanni in 1266, is only one of the many notable historical figures with links to the Baptistery. Amerigo Vespucci, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Cosimo I de’Medici all received the sacrament there.

Consecrated in 1059, the Baptistery’s history is a long and rich one. Built upon the remains of a pagan temple, its origin dates back to the time of the Romans.

The central pavement in the Baptistery is octagonal in shape and made of marble. Near the entrance, the pavement is of inlaid marble, alternating colors in geometric shapes, creating a wave-like effect, and probably Islamic in inspiration.

Striking are the different levels of Byzantine-style figurative ceiling mosaics, with a huge impassive haloed Christ, crucifixion holes in His hands and feet, as the centerpiece, which reminds one of the mosaic in San Miniato of the same period.

To the viewer’s right, and Christ’s left, the closest tier depicts Inferno (after all, the subject is the Last Judgment). There is a big, fat demon in the center of the Inferno panel with a body between his teeth—buttocks and legs protruding from his mouth.

The panel is full of writhing souls, with dark demons herding them toward the large demon (or main devil). To the left is another large demon carrying stacks or piles of damned souls to the middle demon. The scene is quite terrifying, far beyond any description in Dan Brown’s Inferno.