No, Florence does not celebrate Halloween the way we do in the U.S.; Italy reserves the remembrance of saints and souls for November 1 and 2 respectively. Yet there might be another reason Halloween hasn’t caught on here yet. When the city’s cobblestones are sealed with blood and soot from beheadings, burnings and beatings, every day in Florence is an observation of the haunted. American costumes and toilet paperings pale in comparison, and Freddy Krueger is an amateur murder when stacked against almost any Medici ruler. With Halloween only two weeks away, it’s the perfect time to share another tale that’s creepy to us but child’s play to the Florentines.
Tucked away behind the Lungarno between the Ponte Vecchio and Ponte Santa Trinita is an adorable piazzetta that few have the pleasure of stumbling upon. To get there, head west of Piazza della Signoria towards Borgo Santi Apostoli.
Off the Borgo you’ll find a beautiful, small Romanesque church, Santi Apostoli, dating back to the 11th century. It is so wonderful, in fact, that it is said to have inspired Brunelleschi‘s designs for San Lorenzo and Santo Spirito. The church sits back on a tiny square decorated with a charming garden. There’s no clue you’re currently standing on haunted ground – except, of course, for its off-putting name, Piazza del Limbo.
Limbo is the space reserved at the edge of Hell for dead souls never saved from original sin through the rite of baptism. Once baptized, sinners that don’t make it to Heaven might still head to Purgatory, a work-your-way-up chance at eternal bliss. But those that weren’t baptized, even if they never sinned, still lacked the golden ticket for entry to Heaven. Instead, they were sent to Limbo, avoiding the worst tortures of Hell but still ostracized from the full benefits of God’s love.
By the Middle Ages, many of the pure-yet-damned people believed to be in Limbo were babies who died before being baptized. How harrowing – not only were these newborns denied a full life on Earth, but they were then bound by circumstance to a peripheral Hell!
Those babies still had to be buried; hence, this site takes its name from the incredibly sad cemetery that once stood here. Tiny graves were filled with the lifeless bodies of souls that would forever haunt the edge of Hell, their parents’ memories, and all visitors to this very piazza.
What remains of their bones rests right below your feet.
Is that a chill or a child that just brushed your arm? You never can be too sure…
The way we see it, after this trip, you have two options. If you’re thinking:
“I’m a glutton for fear and gore! Take me deeper into Hell!”: Well then, consider us Virgil and take this walk with us through the most haunted sites of Florence.
“You gals are crazy! Get me out of here to Heaven!”: Not all Florentine babies suffered such a terrible fate; take our tour of Santissima Annunziata to learn about a saint-like hospital that saved and reared orphaned babies during the Black Death and beyond.
Tell us – which path will you choose?