Today was our Savonarola day. Girolamo Savonarola (1452 – 1498 A.D.) was a Dominican monk who preached Truth in Florence in the 2nd half of the 15th century. Savonarola did so in the face of opposition from the most powerful man in Florence, Lorenzo de Medici, who had coopted Florence’s freedom, murdered political opponents, and bribed the Catholic church. Moderns practically worship Lorenzo de Medici because he promoted and financed the arts during the Italian Renaissance, but his rightful place in history is more dubious.
When de Medici sent his friends to persuade Savonarola to stop preaching against his corrupt practices, they became Savonarola disciples. De Medici then tried to bribe Savonarola, which also failed. But when de Medici was on his death bed and needed the last rites, instead of calling any number of priests loyal to him, he called on the one man he knew would speak Truth: Savonarola. At de Medici’s bedside, Savonarola asked de Medici if he placed his faith in God for his salvation, and if he would return all the money he had obtained unlawfully from others. His answer to both questions was “Yes.”
Unlike other preachers at the time, Savonarola preached directly from the Bible, and the Word changed peoples’ hearts, drawing them to repentance. Luther and other Reformers considered Savonarola a proto Protestant because of his doctrine on salvation by grace through faith. Florence, for a time, was a changed city, culminating in the so-called Bonfire of the Vanities, when people voluntarily set out their pornography and the clothes and masks they used for the Florentine version of Mardi Gras, into a bonfire in the Piazza della Signoria.
Unfortunately, the change was short-lived, and after preaching against corruption in the Catholic church, being excommunicated, and Florence being threatened with interdiction by the Pope, a rival group incited a mob to descend on the San Marco Convent and take Savonarola and two other monks away to the Piazza della Signoria, where they were hung and burned. But while the change in Florence didn’t last, Savonarola’s influence on individuals did. For example, Michelangelo, who had heard Savonarola preach, is said to have carried a book of Savonarola’s sermons with him for the rest of his life.
At 9:15 a.m. we were back at the entrance to the Domus Aurea, and this time there was a tour guide waiting for us. The Domus Aurea (“Golden House”) was the ostentatious palace of Emperor Nero-three of its wings covered 125 acres–for those of you keeping score, that is nearly 5.5 million square feet. The Domus Aurea was an extension of Nero’s original palace, the Domus Transitoria.
There is a good argument for the proposition that Nero was “the beast” John wrote about in the book of Revelation. “Neron Caesar” transliterated from Greek into the Hebrew short-form spelling, נרון קסר, produces the number 666. See Revelation 13:18. Nero instituted a horrible persecution against Christians following the great fire of Rome in 64 A.D., falsely blaming Christians for the fire. Nero also murdered his own mother and first wife.
Nero, according to contemporaneous Roman historian Tacitus, had Christians “killed by dogs by having the hides of beasts attached to them, or they were nailed to crosses or set aflame, and, when the daylight passed away, they were used as nighttime lamps.” Tacitus writes that “Nero gave his own gardens for this spectacle . . .” And Nero did that here, where we were this morning.
The tour through the now underground halls of the Domus Aurea is fascinating and is enhanced by a virtual reality experience that brings it all to life, but ultimately the Domus Aurea was a a monument to the vanity and wickedness of one man.
God’s judgment is not always swift but always certain. The Roman Senate eventually turned on Nero, and Nero committed suicide before he could be executed. Emperor Trajan subsequently filled in and covered over the Domus Aurea with dirt, using it as a foundation for a public bath.
Everything I’m about to tell you about what happened to us today is true. It’s not “based on a true story” or “inspired by actual events.” It actually happened.
We were supposed to meet tour guide at the Colosseum at 9:15 a.m. for our tour of it, the Forum, and surrounding sites, only our guide was not there. We waited, and then we waited some more. Still no guide. At 9:30, we asked The Wife, who is responsible for scheduling, to pull out the confirmation papers, so we could call and find out where the guide was.
After The Wife reviewed the papers, she asked, “What day is this?”
As it turned out we were early. A day early. The question was, “Now what?” We needed to find something in the area that fit into our GBS tour theme.
We settled on visiting the Church of St. John Lateran, which was less than a mile away. When we arrived at the square, we didn’t know what we were looking for, except that it was a church, but as I surveyed the landscape I saw a cross in the sky–I kid you not (see pic above)–and looking below the cross, a very old looking building with a rotunda.
Day one of the GSB Early Christian, Medieval Travel Tour consisted of 10 hours of flying, nearly as many hours waiting, but little time complaining, thanks to United Airlines’s Polaris Lounge and their onboard entertainment, all of which is designed to make the process of modern travel less unbearable.
Unfortunately, there was no sleep to be had, and so by the end of day one, we had all been up nearly 36 hours. I realize there are only 24 hours in a day, but there was a 7 hour time change, and I feel like we lost some others hours in there somehow. Anyway, the definitive ending of the solar day was no consolation for our bodies which cried out for sleep but was deprived of it by our conditions and determined will to beat them into a circadian rhythm consistent with our European home for the next two weeks.
I passed the time reading Theodora, book #6 on the GSB travel tour reading list, and watching 4 movies, The Big Lebowski, Sideways, The Devil Wears Prada, and Ordinary People. The Wife watched The Duke.
The Big Lebowski is the story of a determined slacker who unwittingly gets pulled into a complex web of nihilists, pornographers, and the nouveau rich. Sideways is a story about two middle-aged former college roommates that explores the complexities of personality in the context of a metaphor about wine. The Devil Wears Prada is a movie about a young woman who attempts to survive working for a successful, demanding editor of a famous fashion magazine. And Ordinary People is a story about a teenager attempting to cope with the death of his older brother and his family’s response to it.
I am formally announcing our upcoming GSB tour which will take place later this summer. This tour has been scheduled before, but the pandemic caused us to cancel the last two years. So, anticipation has reached a fevered pitch.
The destination: Italy. Specifically three cities: Rome, Florence, and Ravenna. As always, we will focus on the the Christian history in each city and the contribution of those events to the advancement of the kingdom of God on earth.
In Rome we will have a day devoted to the Apostle Paul and another to Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor, both personal heroes of mine. We will descend into the Christian catacombs and explore the remains of the capital of the empire where the Gates of Hades did not prevail against the Church.