Here’s a story that’s now included in our little-known facts about Piazza del Duomo: it’s the site of a miracle celebrated by Florentines each January 26th. If you’re interested in seeing men in colorful tights this weekend, you’re in luck – just head to city center at 9 a.m. this Saturday for one of Florence’s famous parades.
The festivities – known as “La Fiortita” – venerate San Zanobi (Saint Zenobius), Florence’s first bishop. He was beloved in life – most likely because he had a talent for resurrecting the dead (5 persons in total). Botticelli painted the Three Miracles of Saint Zenobius (below), which shows the saint reviving three people on separate occasions. A bronze plaque on the façade of Palazzo Visacci on Borgo degli Albizi marks the spot where the saint restored the life of a French pilgrim’s son. It’s easy to understand why much of Florence converted to Christianity while he was in charge.
When San Zanobi passed away in 417, the city laid him to rest in the Church of San Lorenzo, Florence’s cathedral at the time. When the bishop’s seat moved to Santa Reparata, the decision was also made to relocate Zanobi’s remains. As the Florentine tells it, in the winter of 429, his coffin crossed what is today Piazza San Giovanni and brushed against a “dead” winter tree. Upon contact, the previously sparse tree sprang into full bloom. Seems his knack for restoring life never left him.
Today, the marble column topped with a cross flanking the Baptistery marks where the tree found an early spring. Considering the sheer scale of the other monuments in the piazza, few visitors ask questions about the seemingly “ordinary” column (guilty as charged).
Luckily, this Saturday the story will get its due, and the base of the column will be decorated with flowers and greens in remembrance of the tree that sprang to life and the remarkable saint who made it happen.