The Savonarola Bible


This Latin Bible from the collections of the Riccardiana Library of Florence once belonged to Girolamo Savonarola, the Italian monk and reformer who, after denouncing corruption in the Church, was executed for heresy and schism. The Bible was bound in the 19th century with a leather cover, its back panel impressed with a golden portrait of Savonarola. A xylograph (woodcut) depicting Saint Peter with the keys and the motto Tu es Petrus (You are Peter) is found on the frontispiece. This is followed by the alphabetical concordance of theologian Gabriello Bruno, completed by him at the convent of the Franciscan friars in Venice, in the year 1490, on the kalends (first day) of November. The Bible itself was printed in 1492. The margins of the text are densely annotated in Savonarola’s very minute handwriting. The annotations are especially heavy in the last book of the Bible, the Apocalypse (Revelation). Born in Ferrara in 1452, Savonarola was ordained as a Dominican friar in Bologna in 1475. He became an inspiring preacher and by 1493 had risen to the position of vicar-general of the Dominicans in Tuscany. He attacked the corruption of the clergy in Renaissance Italy, and in his preaching began pointing to political revolution as the divinely-ordained means for the regeneration of religion and morality. In 1494, when the Medici were overthrown in Florence, Savonarola set up a democratic republic, which he administered as a Christian commonwealth that he hoped would initiate the reform of Italy and the Church. Savonarola’s denunciations of abuse and corruption gained him many enemies, including the duke of Milan and Pope Alexander VI. In 1495, Alexander summoned him to Rome to answer a charge of heresy. Savonarola disregarded the order, and was excommunicated on May 12, 1497. He was arrested, tortured, and tried, and, with two Dominican followers, was hanged and burned in Florence on May 23, 1498.

Last updated: July 12, 2017