Four years before his public execution in Florence on 23rd May 1498 at the age of fifty-six years, Girolamo Savonarola O.P., without any election or official appointment, attained the position of despotic ruler of the city/state of Florence, having supplanted the de Medici clan as the pinnacle of Florentine authority. Savonarola established and ruled what has become known as the theocratic republic of Florence (1494-1498).
Amidst the conflicts of European kings, how Savonarola was propelled to such a local dominance has been copiously examined by historians over the centuries, and there is no need to repeat these convoluted geopolitical circumstances here.
Fifteen years earlier, in 1483 Savonarola was chosen as the Lenten preacher in the prestigious church of St Lorenzo in Florence, but his plain, earnest exhortations attracted few hearers at that time, when instead people thronged to the Church of Santo Spirito to enjoy the elegant Rennaissance rhetoric of Mariano da Genazzano O.S.A.. In the following years, however, Savonarola experienced some success at preaching in nearby smaller Tuscan town of San Gimignano in 1484-85.
But it was only at Brescia in the following year that his power as an orator became fully developed. In a sermon on the Apocalypse he shook his congregation by his terrible threats of the wrath to come, and drew tears from their eyes by the tender pathos of his assurances of divine mercy. He returned to Florence in 1490.
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