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Final Confession of Lorenzo the Magnificent.

Final Confession of Lorenzo the Magnificent.
17 July 2016 0 Comment

Some describe it as fact whilst others snicker to themselves, struggling with the idea of fact devoid of documentation and second and third hand witnesses to the occasion. Still others talk about the most powerful man in Florence, perhaps of Europe and certainly a king maker, who lay dying in his favourite Medici villa at Careggi, just outside of Florence, as a man able to transcend any difficulty he faced. Burdened by the guilt of a life riddled with intrigue and the maintenance of power Lorenzo knew the church, in fear of him, would grant absolution complete and in any form he desired. Such a thought struck mortal fear into his ever weakening soul, demanding at the end to have Savonarola, the Prior of St. Mark, brought to his bedside immediately.

“No one has ever dared to refuse me anything” he thought to himself, moving uncomfortably in his bed, knowing full well that his pride had become his worst torment. He thought of the remorseless, stern face of the monk, a man who had been equally unmoved by his threats and his blandishments and declared, “I know no honest friar save this one” demanding Savonarola hasten his journey as the great Il Magnifico wanted to confess to him and no other.

Eventually the Prior of San Marco entered the bedroom of Lorenzo, who spoke immediately to the Dominican, explaining calmly three sins that had plagued him for years which he was anxious to confess. Savonarola was no fool and saw an opportunity to play a powerful hand of destiny as he saw it and sat and listened to the Prince (as he was known in his lifetime and which had always infuriated the monk!) whilst Lorenzo began by asking that he be absolved from the sack of Volterra (1472), the robbery of the Monte delle Fanciulle (where funds from the orphanage were stolen by the soldiers of the Medici and many of the young female orphans we are told were driven into a life of prostitution), and the bloody reprisals ordered by Lorenzo after the murder of his beloved brother in what has become known as the Pazzi conspiracy. Listening intently and with a contempt he could hardly disguise Savonarola began his response to this plea by Lorenzo by reminding him that “God is good, God is merciful.”

The monk whose face had grown stern and vengeful raised his voice and said, “three things are needful” and he begun thus; “a great and living faith in God’s mercy” in which Lorenzo replied, “I have the fullest faith in it.” “Secondly” demanded the monk, “You must restore all your ill-gotten wealth, or at least charge your sons to restore it in your name.” At this Lorenzo rose from his bed, angry but without energy to strike back and fell back in grief and gave a nod of assent; feeling defeated and powerless for the first time in his life.

At this Savonarola rose to his full intimidating height, whereas the dying Prince lay cowering with fear in his bed, and declared, “Lastly you must restore liberty to the people of Florence!” His terrible eyes were fixed on Lorenzo, waiting for the answer he wanted to hear, but it was Lorenzo who, struggling to collect his remaining strength, angrily turned his back on the monk without uttering a word. Furious at such defiance in the face of death, Savonarola turned on Lorenzo and stormed out of the room without granting him absolution and without having received any actual and detailed confession. Lorenzo was torn with remorse and doubt and soon after breathed his last on April 8, 1492. Florence was never to enjoy such an extended summer of grace and culture again.

As for the truth behind this story of Lorenzo being denied his last rights as a ‘good’ Catholic it may be well to remember what Ansel Adams said of such tales, “Myths and creeds are heroic struggles to comprehend the truth in the world” The truth was that within a short time Florence was to fall under the religious yoke of Savonarola and the world illuminated by the light of art and learning created by Lorenzo was about to plunge into darkness.

Peter Kilby
About the Author

Peter Kilby is an artist, writer, story-teller, journalist and avid traveller who has lived and worked in Italy since 1987. He created Perfect Traveller to bring the world of art and history closer to you. Download the “free” Perfect Traveller app and enjoy the best audio tours available; about Italy today and yesterday. Sign Up to this website and submit your travel stories and become part of the Perfect Traveller community.

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