Sunday, October 3, 2010
Florence, Oratoria de San Martino
Most of you know that I researched and sought information and notes from experience (you!) prior to my vacation to Florence a week or so ago. In all the literature there was one obscure mention of a very small chapel. It isn't written up in any travel books that I found but I thought I would share with you this gem of a place. It's called the Oratoria de San Martino, just off the Piazza St. Martino. Below I have copied the directions and a brief history.
"Leaving the Piazza della Signoria by the Via Calzaioli, and taking the third turning to the right, a few steps lead to the obscure little piazza, or piazzetta, which is divided in two by the diminutive Church of San Martino once a chapel belonging to the larger church of the same name. San Martino was built A.D. 986, by an archdeacon of Fiesole, who in 1034 presented it to the monks of the Badia - Abbey - of Florence: it was nevertheless maintained as the parish church until 1479, when the abbot suppressed the cure, and gave half the building to the Guild of Tailors, who had their residence in this quarter. The piazza nearest the Via Calzaioli is still called the "Piazza dei Cimatori," from cimare, to shear cloth. St. Martin, who divided his cloak with the beggar, is a saint equally appropriate to the Guild of Tailors, and to the charitable institution to which all that remains of the old church now belongs.
In 1441, the good Bishop Antonino engaged twelve pious citizens of Florence to form themselves into a society for the secret aid of persons brought to penury by misfortune, who were ashamed to beg, and who were therefore called I Poveri Vergognosi - "the shamefaced poor." The members of this society assumed the title of Procuratori dei Poveri Vergognosi; but they were more generally known as the Buonuomini di San Martino - "the good men of St. Martin." The friars of the Badia granted them permission to make San Martino the depository for contributions towards this charity, and they suspended a box with a slip outside, to receive alms, which still remains there with the old inscription, stating the purpose for which the money was demanded."
I found this tiny chapel to be a very spiritually moving place. For the brief time we had alone in it, I marvelled at the quality and maintenance of the 12 colorful murals (lunettes), painted in the manner of Masaccio. We ate a few meals at a ristorante which was situated across from the Oratoria and witnessed Florentines depositing money and envelopes into the slot.