Appendix A

The History of Florence1

The year 1498 was full of many grave and varied events which opened with the downfall of Fra Girolamo. He had stopped preaching on the orders of the Signoria [ruling body], and just when the violent persecution he suffered from both clerics and laymen seemed to have died down, a small incident gave rise to a complete reversal of his fortunes. About two years before, when preaching in Santa Liperata, Fra Domenico da Pescia, his companion in the Order of San Marco, who was a simple man with a reputation for living a saintly life and who followed Fra Girolamo's style in predicting future events in his sermons, had said that if it were necessary to prove the truth of what they foretold, they would revive a corpse and walk through fire unharmed through God's grace; and Fra Girolamo had later repeated this. Nothing had been said about this since, until one Fra Francesco of the Franciscan Order, who preached in Santa Croce and loathed Fra Girolamo and all his works, began to say in his sermons that to prove how false these were he was willing to walk through fire in the Piazza de' Signori if Fra Girolamo would do so too. He added that he was sure he would burn, but so would Fra Girolamo, and this would prove that there was no truth in him, as he had so often boasted that he would issue unhurt from the fire. Fra Domenico was told of this while he was preaching instead of Fra Girolamo; and so he accepted the challenge in the pulpit, offering not Fra Girolamo but himself for this experiment.

This pleased many citizens of both parties who wished these divisions to end and all the uncertainties to be settled once and for all. They began to negotiate with the two preachers about putting the trial into effect. Finally after much argument all the friars agreed that a fire should be lit, and for Fra Girolamo a friar of his Order should enter it, the choice of the representative being left to him. Likewise for the other side a Franciscan friar should be nominated by his superiors. Having decided also on the date, Fra Girolamo had permission from the Signoria to preach; and preaching in San Marco he showed the great importance of miracles and said that they should not be used except in dire necessity when reasoning and experience proved insufficient; as the Christian faith had been proved in infinitely varied ways, and the truth of the things he had predicted had been shown with such effect and reason that anyone who was not hardened in wickedness could understand them, he had not had recourse to miracles so as not to tempt God. Nevertheless, since they had now been challenged, they willingly accepted, and all could be sure that on entering the fire the result would be that their friar would come out alive and unharmed while the other would be burned. If the opposite happened, they might freely say that he had preached lies. He added that not only his friars but anyone who entered the fire in defence of this truth would have the same experience. And then he asked them whether, if need be, they would go through fire to support the cause of so great a work ordered by God. With a great cry nearly everyone present answered that they would. An amazing thing to think of, because without any doubt, if Fra Girolamo had told them to, very many would indeed have gone through fire. Finally on the appointed day, the 27 of April, which was the Saturday before Palm Sunday, a platform was set up in the middle of the Piazza de' Signori with a great bonfire of faggots. The Franciscans came at the appointed time and went into the loggia of the Signoria; and then the Dominican friars arrived, many of them robed, singing the psalm Exsurgat Dominus et dissipentur inimici eius [the Lord shall arise and his enemies be scattered], and with them Fra Girolamo bearing the Host, in honour of which some friars and many lay-followers carried lighted torches. Their procession was so devout and showed so clearly that they came to the trial with the highest courage, that it not only reassured their own followers but even made their enemies flinch.

When they had entered the loggia, separated however from the Franciscans by a wooden partition, some difficulty arose about the clothes Fra Domenico da Pescia was to wear to walk through he fire. The Franciscans were afraid they might be enchanted. As they could not agree the Signoria repeatedly sent two citizens from each party to discuss their differences: Messer Francesco Gualterotti, Giovan Batista Ridolfi, Tommaso Antinori and Piero degli Alberti. When they had so arranged matters that agreement was near, they took the leaders of the friars into the palace and here resolved their difficulties and agreed on terms. But when they were about to start the ordeal, it came to the knowledge of the Franciscans that Fra Domenico was to enter the fire bearing the Host. The began vehemently to reject this proposal, arguing that if the Host were burned it would be a scandal and a grave danger to the whole Christian faith. On the other side Fra Girolamo continued to insist that he should carry it and in the end after

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