During our epic three-month Europe trip, Laura and I took a few days to explore places separately. Enjoy this look at Basilica di Santa Croce, the site of Dante’s empty tomb.
The Basilica di Santa Croce, or Basilica of the Holy Cross, is the biggest Franciscan church in the world, built in 1443 and the final resting place of a number of famous citizens of Florence, including Michelangelo:
The church features works by Donatello, Giotto and many others. It’s quite beautiful inside and is well worth the visit for anyone into pretty churches…
…however, the reason it’s here on Worthy Go isn’t any of the above, but rather because of a certain empty tomb inside it.
That’s the tomb of Dante Alighieri, the famous poet whose depictions of Hell in the Inferno have been a classic for centuries. Dante was born around 1265 in Florence, married young (an arranged marriage of the type so common in those days), and had a few kids, all the while pining after another girl he’d seen in church — the famous Beatrice. In 1302 he found himself on the wrong side of an ongoing war, being affiliated with the White Guelphs.
Unfortunately for him, it was the Black Guelphs who won, and they didn’t look too kindly on having this guy from the losing team around. Dante was condemned to permanent exile from Florence (a judgment that was finally rescinded in 2008, a little too late for him to do anything about it.) He wandered around for a few years, wrote his famous Divine Comedy (including Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso) and finally died in 1321 in Ravenna, where he was buried. He never did get back to his native Florence, though he did get some satisfaction by depicting many of his enemies in Hell in the Inferno. Moral of the story: be nice to writers unless you want everyone throughout the rest of history to remember you as a real jerk.
After Dante became a little more famous, Florence had a change of heart, deciding that actually they’d quite like to have his remains resting in Florence, not Ravenna. Ravenna argued that if Florence didn’t want Dante in life, they sure weren’t getting him in death. Florence was, at the time, just a little bit powerful (anyone heard of a little family by the name of Medici?) and managed to get a papal dispensation in 1519 from Pope Leo X to have Dante’s remains returned to Florence.
Ravenna told Florence to come get them, and a delegation arrived in Ravenna from Florence with that mission; however, when Dante’s grave was dug up, the body was missing and the people of Ravenna claimed ignorance. After all, Dante had spent the last few years of his life wandering; maybe he’d just got up and gone for a walk or something. They sure didn’t know. The Florentine delegation was hardly thrilled by this turn of events, but there really wasn’t much they could do, so they returned home, and Dante’s whereabouts remained a mystery…
…until 1865, when some repair work was done on the church and workmen breaking open a wall found a body with a little note identifying it as Dante’s, left there in 1677 for safekeeping. Dante was reburied in Ravenna, and although Florence hasn’t given up its efforts to get him back, he remains in Ravenna indefinitely.
Dante’s tomb back in Florence at the Basilica di Santa Croce was built in 1829, which seems pretty optimistic given that no one even knew where the body was at that point. It remains empty.
Name: Basilica di Santa Croce
Address: Piazza Santa Croce, 16, 50122 Firenze, Italy (GPS: 43.768591, 11.262252)
Directions: From Piazza della Signoria (the square with all the statues): Walk about 400 m along Borgio dei Greci (the road leading east out of the piazza). It’ll take you directly to the Basilica di Santa Croce.
Hours: Monday-Saturday 9:30 AM — 5:30 PM; Sundays and holy days 2:00–5:30 PM; last admission at 5 PM.
Admission: €6.00 full price, discounts for teenagers 11–17, free entry for children.
Phone: +39 055 246 6105