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February 7th 1497: Bonfire of the Vanities

On this day in 1497 in Florence, thousands of objects including cosmetics, art, carnival masks, and books were burned in a so-called ‘bonfire of the vanities’. The bonfire was orchestrated by the supporters of Dominican priest Girolamo Savonarola, who spoke out against corruption in the Catholic Church and called for Christian renewal. The puritanical Savonarola became a prominent moral and political leader in Florence during the Medici exile, thundering against human wickedness and hedonism, which he framed in apocalyptic terms. Under his direction, street festivals and general frivolities were banned in Florence, and the famous bonfire destroyed objects seen as promoting the sin of vanity in the hope of cleansing the soul. Among Savanarola’s enemies was Pope Alexander VI, and in early 1498 he was arrested by Florentine authorities. The priest and his core supporters were tortured and condemned as heretics; Savanarola was executed on May 23rd 1498 in the Piazza della Signoria.

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Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore da aliffc3