Take Shelter! Santa Croce & Its Little-Known Significance

Santa Croce may be the most important church in Florence, it is the Florentines’ version of Westminster Abbey.


When traveling in Italy, churches can become redundant. Florence itself has over forty churches, so picking a select few to visit is important, especially with little time. With cold weather approaching, staying indoors is vital to keep warm as well as a great opportunity to explore some of the lesser-known sights of a city.

Although the Duomo, Florence’s cathedral, is the most eye-catching in its size and monumentality, Santa Croce may be the most important church in Florence. It is the Florentines’ version of Westminster Abbey in London in that the most famous Florentines are buried there such as Machiavelli, Galileo, and Michelangelo.

The Santa Croce square is a little west of the Duomo’s piazza, and its façade is one of the most impressive in Florence. Originally the façade matched the brown brick of the rest of the building, but it was redone in the 19th century in a slightly Gothic, white marble, pediment-ed style as it appears today.

Side note: the piazza itself is impressive, constantly filled with carts selling leather goods. This is because of the fact that it is the best place in Florence to purchase the city’s famous leather. Some sellers even take you to their shop nearby to get fitted for a leather jacket or shoes, the perfect souvenir that both keeps you warm and reminds you of your times in Florence. You also may see a monument to Dante out front as well. Although he was exiled from Florence and therefore wasn’t buried in the church, his talent now is recognized and ironically flaunted by Florentines.


When walking in for the first time to Santa Croce, the stale air of the church is the first thing you may notice. The ceilings are almost as high as the façade, and the monuments and highly decorated tombstones line the walls the entire way down the church to the altar. There are private chapels nestled in the apses.

The tombs range from a simple stone with a sculpted woman personifying Politics over a tomb for Machiavelli to the three figures intertwined with the central figure holding an outstretched hand to the observer on Alberti’s tomb. The only common elements are the heavy use of smooth white marble and the monumental size of the tombstones. The etched plaques themselves are taller than any person looking at it.

At the end of the apse, the private chapels also boast frescoes from Giotto, who was credited with starting naturalistic Renaissance-style painting. These date back to the late 13th and early 14th centuries. Although they are flaking and dull color-wise, their significance is undeniable.

The meanings of most of the artwork in the Basilica are like this, restored only enough to keep their integrity and to be recognizable to the viewer. It may seem dull to look at a bunch of tombstones and old art. However, there are no words to describe the meaning and inspiring sight of all of the influential individuals who, like Dante, were rejected from society at first for their thoughts but were later valued as the pride of the city.

The Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross) is located: Piazza di Santa Croce, 16, 50122 Florence, Italy

Article written by AJ Kiyoizumi.

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