Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Consecration of The Duomo in Florence - "A Place of Awe"

The Duomo in Florence (Interior)

Pope Eugenius IV (1383–1447) had to flee Rome in 1434. He resided in Florence for nine years after a popular uprising in Rome led by the Colonna family had in effect expelled him from the Eternal City

For these nine years Florence became an alternative Rome, a holy city.

The Pope resided at the Dominican convent of Santa Maria Novella

During his time there the famous dome of the Cathedral (Santa Maria del Fiore) was completed apart from the Lantern.

The dome, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, is one of the great symbols of the Florentine Renaisssance. Its construction helped mark Europe's passage from the medieval to the modern. has been studied over the ages by scholars who have defined its place in history, and by scientists, who with less success have tried to understand its inner workings.

A contemporary account by Alberti described the dome:

"Who could ever be hard or envious enough to fail to praise Pippo the architect [Brunelleschi] on seeing here such a large structure, rising above the skies, ample to cover with its shadow all the Tuscan people, and constructed without the aid of centering or great quantity of wood? Since this work seems impossible of execution in our time, if I judge rightly, it was probably unknown and unthought of among the Ancients. But there will be other places, Filippo, to tell of your fame, of the virtues of our Donato, and of the others who are most pleasing to me by their deeds. "
(Alberti, On Painting,  Dedication/Preface to Filippo Brunelleschi)

The Cathedral could now be consecrated.

It had taken 140 years before the Cathedral could be consecrated. Boniface VIII's legate, Cardinal Valeriano, solemnly laid the first stone of the new cathedral on the Feast of Mary's Nativity, in 1296.

On March 25, 1436 —the feast day of the Annunciation and the first day of the Florentine new year— Pope Eugenius IV consecrated the Cathedral.

This was no ordinary occasion as you might expect.

At its completion the Cathedral was the largest in Europe exceediing that of the Old St Peters in Rome.

This was an occasion in which Church and State cooperated because of the great significance of the occasion to both.

The dedication was to the honour and praise of God and of the Blessed Virgin Mary and "ad honorem comunis et populi Florentini et ad decorem iamdicte civitatis Florentie"

There is a contemporary account of the whole day`s events by the great humanist scholar, Giannozzo Manetti, (1396-1459) Oratio de Secularibus et Pontificalibus Pompis in Consecratione Basilicae Florentinae.

A raised walkway had been built to connect Santa Maria Novella (where the Pope resided) to the cathedral so that the pope's procession could be seen by all.

After the consecration of the altar, there were a number of acts of political significance: the knighting of a government official (Guilio Davanzati), freedom granted to several prisoners and through Cosimo de`Medici, the granting of a longer period of indulgences

Afterwards the Mass followed.

And if the consecration is remembered today it is the Mass which is remembered and in particular the Motet specially composed for the occasion by Guillaume Dufay (c. 1397-1474): Nuper rosarum flores/Terribilis ist locus iste

Manetti described the Motet at its "premier":

""But at the Elevation of the Most Sacred Host, the whole space of the church was filled with such choruses of harmony and such a concord of divers instruments that it seemed (not without reason) as though the symphonies and songs of the angels and of divine Paradise had been sent forth from the heavens to whisper in our ears an unbelievable celestial sweetness. Wherefore at that moment I was so possessed by ecstasy that I seemed to enjoy the life of the Blessed here on earth; whether it happened so to others present I know not, but concerning myself I can bear witness. "

Nuper rosarum flores
Ex dono pontificis
Hieme licet horrida
Tibi, virgo coelica,
Pie et sancte deditum
Grandis templum machinae
Condecorarunt perpetim.
Hodie vicarius
Jesu Christe et Petri
Successor Eugenius
Hoc idem amplissimum
Sacris templum manibus
Sanctisque liquoribus
Consecrare dignatus est.
Igitur, alma parens
Nati tui et filia
Virgo decus virginum,
Tuus te Florentiae
Devotus erat populus,
Ut qui mente et corpore
Mundo quicquam exorarit.
Oratione tua
Cruciatus et meritis
Tui secundum carnem
Nati Domini sui
Grata beneficia
Veniamque reatum
Accipere meraeatur. Amen.

(Cantus firmus) Terribilis est locus iste.

A rough translation would be:

"Recently garlands of roses were given by the Pope to you, heavenly Virgin, as a perpetual adornment, after a horrible winter; with a temple of great ingenuity, dedicated in a pious and holy fashion.

Today Eugenius, the vicar of Jesus Christ and successor of Peter, has deigned to consecrate this same vast temple with his sacred hands and holy oils.

Therefore, sweet parent and daughter of your son, virgin, favorite of virgins, your devoted people of Florence pray to you, that they may acquire something in mind and body on earth.

By your prayer, and by the worth of the crucifixion of your son in the flesh, their Lord, may they deserve to receive kind favors and pardon for their transgressions. Amen.

This is a place of awe."