Stories and Legends of the Cathedral

An Uncommon Tour of Florence’s Duomo

Of course, it is a place that you will not want to miss, since it is the religious center of the city. After having admired the façade, turn on the north side (the side facing Via Martelli) and stop at the Cornacchini door, which is right in front of Via Ricasoli.

The first story that I want to recount is entitled “when reality exceeds imagination” or even “a nightmare come true.”

You should know that the lion is a special animal in Florence, also known as the so-called Marzocco, a lion symbolizing Florence, and behind Palazzo Vecchio lions were bred just like in Rome geese and the she-wolf were bred at the Campidoglio. The churches often had their decorations with lions and lionesses since lions reminded them of Saint Mark and sometimes symbolized Christ himself who overcomes evil.

But let’s get to our history.

At the beginning of 1400s on Via Ricasoli (then called, Via del Cocomero (watermelon)), lived a certain Anselmo that had a recurring nightmare that he was being devoured by a lion. Anselmo passed by the Cornacchini door every day that had (and still has) a lion and a lioness that support the two beautiful columns beside the door. A board left behind when finishing the work, gave easy access to the lion statue sculpted with its mouth open. One tragic morning, Anselmo was attracted to this lion with its open mouth. To exorcise his fears and to end the recurring nightmare, Anselmo decided to defy his fears as the stone lion could not tear him to pieces, and then he decided to get closer and put a hand in the mouth of the proud like who was still…

But Anselmo could not know or imagine that a scorpion stood hidden in the wide-open mouth, that this poisonous scorpion would sting him and that he would die a few days later in awful pain. Let’s just say that Anselmo’s nightmare was a premonitory dream that became a tragic reality !

And on the same side of the Cathedral, continuing towards Via dei Servi and on the corner of this street, look upwards for a statue of a bull carved with its beautiful horns. It is strange that such a humble animal is depicted in the Cathedral. Some think it’s a tribute to deceased animals that transported heavy marble blocks during the construction of the Cathedral and the rest in the courtyard of Palazzo Pitti, where there is a sculpture dedicated a mule.

But many Florentines tell a more spicy version of this story of the ox with horns. In the beginning of the 1400s, there lived a baker with a beautiful wife in a house in front of the Cathedral. We know that bakers are early risers and it seems that the beautiful wife hosted a master builder who worked at the cathedral in her house when her husband was going to the shop. It also seems that the foreman had carved this ox to remind all eternity the horns which, unbeknownst to him, the baker wore as a cuckhold.

Continuing further towards Via dell’Oriuolo, we arrive at the “canto dei Bischeri.” “Canto” in Florentine indicates the angle between two streets and it was very useful as a reference point in the past when there were no house numbers and meetings were arranged at the “canto.” As you discover Florence more, under the marble plaques that indicate many streets, you will find the name of the “canto.”

The word “bischero” indicates a stupid and foolish person. And that comes right from the derogatory sense of Bischeri family who had their home where today is the apse of current cathedral. The City of Florence decided to tear down the old church of Santa Reparata to build a larger one which necessitated the demolition of the Bischeri’s house and therefore made several offers to buy their home. Bischeri, intending to speculate beyond measure on the City’s offers, took his sweet time knowing that the offer would increase more and more over time. When they rejected the last advantageous offer, the house caught fire and the Bischeri lost everything.

Continuing our walk, we come close to Piazza delle Pallottole (it was a square where “palottole,” was played, a game similar to bocce) where a target was placed between shop numbers 54 and 55, where there is the “stone of Dante.” Going a little further on Via dello Studio (the studio because there was the ancient seat of the University of Florence called precisely the Study), we can see a gray stone that reads “true stone of Dante.” This stone is related to an episode that reminds us of the formidable memory of the great poet. It is said that while Dante stood brooding on this rock, he watched the work on the Church of Santa Reparata, a gentleman who passed at lunchtime asked him what was his favorite dish. Dante replies, “eggs.” After a few years, some town ladies go back and Dante is surprisingly once again sitting on the stone. Thinking to take him by surprise, they asks, “With what?” And Dante, calmly responds “with salt.”

Continuing our walk around the Duomo, we see two statues that the Florentines call “gli omoni – the big men” that are Arnolfo di Cambio architect of the Duomo and Filippo Brunelleschi designer of the famous dome, pulled up, it seems, without scaffolding. The two “big men” seem to look, smugly, upon their work.

I leave you now in front of the facade of the Cathedral to admire it again in its splendor, and I leave you to see the baptistery which Dante also carefully defines “the beautiful St. John.”

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Sira THE FLORENTINE TEACHER

Born in a small town in the outskirts of Siena, since very you...

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