University of Virginia Library


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They found him in a large and dimly lighted apartment,
sitting absorbed in pensive contemplation before a picture of
the Crucifixion by Frà Angelico, which, whatever might be
its naïve faults of drawing and perspective, had an intense
earnestness of feeling, and, though faded and dimmed by the
lapse of centuries, still stirs in some faint wise even the practised
dilettanti of our day.

The face upon the cross, with its majestic patience, seemed
to shed a blessing down on the company of saints of all ages
who were grouped by their representative men at the foot.
Saint Dominic, Saint Ambrose, Saint Augustin, Saint Jerome,
Saint Francis, and Saint Benedict were depicted as
standing before the Great Sacrifice in company with the
Twelve Apostles, the two Maries, and the fainting mother
of Jesus, — thus expressing the unity of the Church Universal
in that great victory of sorrow and glory. The painting
was enclosed above by a semicircular bordering composed
of medallion heads of the Prophets, and below was a similar
medallion border of the principal saints and worthies of the
Dominican order. In our day such pictures are visited by
tourists with red guide-books in their hands, who survey
them in the intervals of careless conversation; but they
were painted by the simple artist on his knees, weeping and
praying as he worked, and the sight of them was accepted
by like simple-hearted Christians as a perpetual sacrament
of the eye, by which they received Christ into their souls.


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So absorbed was the father in the contemplation of this
picture, that he did not hear the approaching footsteps of the
knight and monk. When at last they came so near as
almost to touch him, he suddenly looked up, and it became
apparent that his eyes were full of tears.

He rose, and, pointing with a mute gesture toward the
painting, said, —

“There is more in that than in all Michel Angelo Buonarotti
hath done yet, though he be a God-fearing youth, —
more than in all the heathen marbles in Lorenzo's gardens.
But sit down with me here. I have to come here often,
where I can refresh my courage.”

The monk and knight seated themselves, the latter with
his attention riveted on the remarkable man before him.
The head and face of Savonarola are familiar to us by
many paintings and medallions, which, however, fail to
impart what must have been that effect of his personal
presence which so drew all hearts to him in his day.
The knight saw a man of middle age, of elastic, well-knit
figure, and a flexibility and grace of motion which seemed
to make every nerve, even to his finger-ends, vital with the
expression of his soul. The close-shaven crown and the
plain white Dominican robe gave a severe and statuesque
simplicity to the lines of his figure. His head and face, like
those of most of the men of genius whom modern Italy has
produced, were so strongly cast in the antique mould as to
leave no doubt of the identity of modern Italian blood with
that of the great men of ancient Italy. His low, broad
forehead, prominent Roman nose, well-cut, yet fully outlined
lips, and strong, finely moulded jaw and chin, all
spoke the old Roman vigor and energy, while the flexible
delicacy of all the muscles of his face and figure gave an


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inexpressible fascination to his appearance. Every emotion
and changing thought seemed to flutter and tremble over his
countenance as the shadow of leaves over sunny water. His
eye had a wonderful dilating power, and when he was excited
seemed to shower sparks; and his voice possessed a
surprising scale of delicate and melodious inflections, which
could take him in a moment through the whole range of
human feeling, whether playful and tender or denunciatory
and terrible. Yet, when in repose among his friends, there
was an almost childlike simplicity and artlessness of manner
which drew the heart by an irresistible attraction.
At this moment it was easy to see by his pale cheek and
the furrowed lines of his face that he had been passing
through severe struggles; but his mind seemed stayed
on some invisible centre, in a solemn and mournful

“Come, tell me something of the good works of the Lord
in our Italy, brother,” he said, with a smile which was almost
playful in its brightness. “You have been through
all the lowly places of the land, carrying our Lord's bread
to the poor, and repairing and beautifying shrines and altars
by the noble gift that is in you.”

“Yes, father,” said the monk; “and I have found that
there are many sheep of the Lord that feed quietly among
the mountains of Italy, and love nothing so much as to
hear of the dear Shepherd who laid down His life for

“Even so, even so,” said the Superior, with animation;
“and it is the thought of these sweet hearts that comforts
me when my soul is among lions. The foundation standeth
sure, — the Lord knoweth them that are His.”

“And it is good and encouraging,” said Father Antonio,


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“to see the zeal of the poor, who will give their last penny
for the altar of the Lord, and who flock so to hear the word
and take the sacraments. I have had precious seasons of
preaching and confessing, and have worked in blessedness
many days restoring and beautifying the holy pictures
and statues whereby these little ones have been comforted.
What with the wranglings of princes and the factions and
disturbances in our poor Italy, there be many who suffer in
want and loss of all things, so that no refuge remains to
them but the altars of our Jesus, and none cares for them
but He.”

“Brother,” said the Superior, “there be thousands of
flowers fairer than man ever saw that grow up in waste
places and in deep dells and shades of mountains; but God
bears each one in His heart, and delighteth Himself in
silence with them: and so doth He with these poor, simple,
unknown souls. The True Church is not a flaunting
queen who goes boldly forth among men displaying her
beauties, but a veiled bride, a dove that is in the cleft of
the rocks, whose voice is known only to the Beloved. Ah!
when shall the great marriage-feast come, when all shall
behold her glorified? I had hoped to see the day here in
Italy: but now” —

The father stopped, and seemed to lapse into unconscious
musing, — his large eye growing fixed and mysterious in its

“The brothers have been telling me somewhat of the
tribulations you have been through,” said Father Antonio,
who thought he saw a good opening to introduce the subject
nearest his heart.

“No more of that! — no more!” said the Superior, turning
away his head with an expression of pain and weariness;


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“rather let us look up. What think you, brother, are all
these doing now?” he said, pointing to the saints in the picture.
“They are all alive and well, and see clearly through
our darkness.” Then, rising up, he added, solemnly, “Whatever
man may say or do, it is enough for me to feel that my
dearest Lord and His blessed Mother and all the holy archangels,
the martyrs and prophets and apostles, are with me.
The end is coming.”

“But, dearest father,” said Antonio, “think you the Lord
will suffer the wicked to prevail?”

“It may be for a time,” said Savonarola. “As for me, I
am in His hands only as an instrument. He is master of
the forge and handles the hammer, and when He has done
using it He casts it from Him. Thus He did with Jeremiah,
whom He permitted to be stoned to death when his preaching
mission was accomplished; and thus He may do with
this hammer when He has done using it.”

At this moment a monk rushed into the room with a face
expressive of the utmost terror, and called out, —

“Father, what shall we do? The mob are surrounding
the convent! Hark! hear them at the doors!”

In truth, a wild, confused roar of mingled shrieks, cries,
and blows came in through the open door of the apartment;
and the pattering sound of approaching footsteps was heard
like showering rain-drops along the cloisters.

“Here come Messer Nicolo de' Lapi, and Francesco Valori!”
called out a voice.

The room was soon filled with a confused crowd, consisting
of distinguished Florentine citizens, who had gained
admittance through a secret passage, and the excited novices
and monks.

“The streets outside the convent are packed close with


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men,” cried one of the citizens; “they have stationed
guards everywhere to cut off our friends who might come
to help us.”

“I saw them seize a young man who was quietly walking,
singing psalms, and slay him on the steps of the Church
of the Innocents,” said another; “they cried and hooted,
`No more psalm-singing!'”

“And there 's Arnolfo Battista,” said a third; — “he went
out to try to speak to them, and they have killed him, — cut
him down with their sabres.”

“Hurry! hurry! barricade the door! arm yourselves!”
was the cry from other voices.

“Shall we fight, father? shall we defend ourselves?”
cried others, as the monks pressed around their Superior.

When the crowd first burst into the room, the face of the
Superior flushed, and there was a slight movement of surprise;
then he seemed to recollect himself, and murmuring,
“I expected this, but not so soon,” appeared lost in mental
prayer. To the agitated inquiries of his flock, he answered,
— “No, brothers; the weapons of monks must be spiritual,
not carnal.” Then lifting on high a crucifix, he said, —
“Come with me, and let us walk in solemn procession to
the altar, singing the praises of our God.”

The monks, with the instinctive habit of obedience, fell
into procession behind their leader, whose voice, clear and
strong, was heard raising the Psalm, “Quare fremunt
”: —

“Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a
vain thing?

“The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers
take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his
Anointed, saying, —


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“`Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their
cords from us.'

“He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord
shall have them in derision.”

As one voice after another took up the chant, the solemn
enthusiasm rose and deepened, and all present, whether ecclesiastics
or laymen, fell into the procession and joined in
the anthem. Amid the wild uproar, the din and clatter of
axes, the thunders of heavy battering-implements on the
stone walls and portals, came this long-drawn solemn wave
of sound, rising and falling, — now drowned in the savage
clamors of the mob, and now bursting out clear and full like
the voices of God's chosen amid the confusion and struggles
of all the generations of this mortal life.

White-robed and grand the procession moved on, while
the pictured saints and angels on the walls seemed to smile
calmly down upon them from a golden twilight. They
passed thus into the sacristy, where with all solemnity and
composure they arrayed their Father and Superior for the
last time in his sacramental robes, and then, still chanting,
followed him to the high altar, where all bowed in prayer.
And still, whenever there was a pause in the stormy uproar
and fiendish clamor, might be heard the clear, plaintive
uprising of that strange singing, — “O Lord, save thy people,
and bless thine heritage!”

It needs not to tell in detail what history has told of that
tragic night: how the doors at last were forced, and the
mob rushed in; how citizens and friends, and many of the
monks themselves, their instinct of combativeness overcoming
their spiritual beliefs, fought valiantly, and used torches
and crucifixes for purposes little contemplated when they
were made.


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Fiercest among the combatants was Agostino, who three
times drove back the crowd as they were approaching the
choir, where Savonarola and his immediate friends were still
praying. Father Antonio, too, seized a sword from the
hand of a fallen man and laid about him with an impetuosity
which would be inexplicable to any who do not know what
force there is in gentle natures when the objects of their
affections are assailed. The artist monk fought for his master
with the blind desperation with which a woman fights
over the cradle of her child.

All in vain! Past midnight, and the news comes that
artillery is planted to blow down the walls of the convent,
and the magistracy, who up to this time have lifted not a
finger to repress the tumult, send word to Savonarola to
surrender himself to them, together with the two most active
of his companions, Frà Domenico da Pescia and Frà Silvestro
Maruffi, as the only means of averting the destruction of
the whole order. They offer him assurances of protection and
safe return, which he does not in the least believe: nevertheless,
he feels that his hour is come, and gives himself up.

His preparations were all made with a solemn method
which showed that he felt he was approaching the last act in
the drama of life. He called together his flock, scattered
and forlorn, and gave them his last words of fatherly advice,
encouragement, and comfort, — ending with the remarkable
declaration, “A Christian's life consists in doing good and
suffering evil.” “I go with joy to this marriage-supper,”
he said, as he left the church for the last sad preparations.
He and his doomed friends then confessed and received the
sacrament, and after that he surrendered himself into the
hands of the men who he felt in his prophetic soul had come
to take him to torture and to death.


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As he gave himself into their hands, he said, “I commend
to your care this flock of mine, and these good citizens of
Florence who have been with us;” and then once more
turning to his brethren, said, — “Doubt not, my brethren.
God will not fail to perfect His work. Whether I live or
die, He will aid and console you.”

At this moment there was a struggle with the attendants
in the outer circle of the crowd, and the voice of Father
Antonio was heard crying out earnestly, — “Do not hold
me! I will go with him! I must go with him!” — “Son,”
said Savonarola, “I charge you on your obedience not to
come. It is I and Frà Domenico who are to die for the
love of Christ.” And thus, at the ninth hour of the night,
he passed the threshold of San Marco.

As he was leaving, a plaintive voice of distress was heard
from a young novice who had been peculiarly dear to him,
who stretched his hands after him, crying, — “Father!
father! why do you leave us desolate?” Whereupon he
turned back a moment, and said, — “God will be your help.
If we do not see each other again in this world, we surely
shall in heaven.”

When the party had gone forth, the monks and citizens
stood looking into each other's faces, listening with dismay to
the howl of wild ferocity that was rising around the departing

“What shall we do?” was the outcry from many

“I know what I shall do,” said Agostino. “If any man
here will find me a fleet horse, I will start for Milan this
very hour; for my uncle is now there on a visit, and he is a
counsellor of weight with the King of France: we must get
the King to interfere.”


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“Good! good! good!” rose from a hundred voices.

“I will go with you,” said Father Antonio. “I shall
have no rest till I do something.”

“And I,” quoth Jacopo Niccolini, “will saddle for you,
without delay, two horses of part Arabian blood, swift of
foot, and easy, and which will travel day and night without