"Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas" - Fra Girolamo Savonarola 's Execution

23 May 1498, 515 years ago Fra Girolamo Savonarola was hanged and burned at the stake on Florence’s Piazza della Signorina where he had set the torch to piles of books, fineries, gaming tables, musical instruments and works of art the year before in the “Bonfire of Vanities”.

“The reason why I entered into a religious order is this: first, the great misery of the world, the wickedness of men, the rapes, the adulteries, the thefts, the pride, the idolatry, the vile curses, for the world has come to such a state that one can no longer find anyone who does good” (Girolamo Savonarola)

 Ludwig von Langenmantel is called “Savonarola Preaching Against Prodigality” (1879)


The de facto ruler of Florence for four years became a fire and brimstone preacher after he quitted his studies of medicine and philosophy and joined the Black Friars. In pre-Reformatory and revolutionary fervour, Savonarola preached against clerical corruption, the tyrannical nobility, mistreatment of the poor and a general moral decline. With Northern Italy, in upheaval anyway during the Italian Wars and Charles VIII’s marauding French army in the surroundings, Fra Girolamo assembled a huge following.

Declaring Florence the New Jerusalem, the city’s Medici rulers were unceremoniously walked Spanish out of the place and a Republic was proclaimed. Then Savonarola’s campaign to rid the city of vice began. Everything that might have given him or his inner circle, the Frateschi, a frown on their Puritan visages was penalised – from sodomy to gaudy dresses – and the jeunesse dorée of New Jerusalem was organised into a militia, patrolling the streets and curbing vice. With clubs.

Fra Bartolomeo (1472 - 1517): "Portrait of Savonarola" (around 1498)


When Savonarola turned Prophet as well, presaging general mayhem for the Italian city states and the Papacy, but wealth and fortune for the Florentine righteous and threatened to ally with the French, the Borgia pope Alexander VI decided he’d had it with Savonarola. He was excommunicated in 1497, the city of Florence in toto threatened with excommunication if they decided to harbour him further. The little book of his collected own prophesies that Fra Girolamo sent to Alexander didn’t help to mollify the pope either.

He finally lost the grip on his audience, was imprisoned by the mob and forced to revoke all of his visions and got executed. Florence became a hereditary dukedom again. Savonarola is venerated by most Protestant churches as a martyr and Pope John Paul II initiated his beatification in 1998.

Anonymous painting showing  Savonarola's execution in the Piazza della Signoria (1498)