Girolamo Savonarola


May 17, 2022

Girolamo Maria Francesco Matteo Savonarola (Latin Hieronymus Savonarola; born September 21, 1452 in Ferrara; † May 23, 1498 in Florence) was an Italian Dominican, penitential preacher and church reformer. He attracted attention with his intensifying fundamental criticism of the Church and after the fall of the de facto rule of the Medici in the Republic of Florence from 1494 to 1498 he was the spiritual leader of the Frateschi party and as such defended broad political participation against the aspirations of the Oligarchy after containment of rule.


Savonarola was born from Mantua, the third of seven children of the later impoverished banker and businessman Niccolò Savonarola and his wife Elena Bonacolsi (or Bonacossi). First Savonarola acquired the academic degree of Magister artium, and then began to study medicine; as had his paternal grandfather Giovanni Michele Savonarola before him, who personally encouraged him in his early years. The parents' house in Ferrara bordered on that of the Strozzi family, a rejected marriage proposal to Laodomia Strozzi is considered probable. At the age of 22, Savonarola broke off his medical studies and entered the Dominican monastery of San Domenico of Bologna on April 24, 1475 in order to live "not like an animal among pigs, but as a reasonable person". Here in Bologna he completed the general studies of his order. On May 1, 1477 he received the sacrament of Holy Orders as a deacon. Thereafter Savonarola worked as a preacher. His first appearance as a penitential preacher met with little success at first, but this quickly changed. From 1479 he was master of novices in the Dominican monastery in Ferrara for two years. In the spring of 1482, at a general assembly of the Lombard Dominican congregation, he was appointed lector in the Florentine monastery of San Marco, where he read the Holy Scriptures and interpreted them in the sermon. Savonarola developed into a sought-after preacher who called for fundamental church reform. From 1484 private revelations, particularly during his fasts in 1485 and 1486, led to changes in his spiritual life; thus his sermons delivered in San Gimignano had an increasingly eschatological character. In 1487 Savonarola was recalled from Florence. He later continued his preaching work in various northern Italian cities. His ardent speeches against the depravity of the ruling classes were acclaimed by large sections of the population. The mass impact that he finally achieved in northern Italy is often compared to that of the preacher Hans Böhm, who had a similar appeal in Franconia in 1476 with his social-revolutionary theses. Previously, Savonarola was appointed Magister studiorum in the Bolognese Dominican monastery, after which he took over a one-year theological teaching position there. Ministerships in Modena, Piacenza, Brescia and Genoa followed.

The Medici

In 1490 Savonarola was again sent to Florence as a lecturer at the request of Lorenzo de' Medici. In the monastery of San Marco he first taught logic and later also the interpretation of individual books of the Holy Scriptures. In July 1491, he was appointed prior. In his capacity as head of the order, he strove for a detachment of the convent from the Lombard congregation and for a Tuscan congregation of its own in order to reform monastic life. So the rule of the order should be observed again in the original strictness. In Savonarola's view, the vow of poverty should also have been lived out more seriously in order to let the preacher order become a tool for the Christian renewal of Italy. He wrote his writings not only in Latin, but also in the Italian vernacular. Not only ecclesiastical grievances, but also wealth, unjust rule and the direction of contemporary Re