Possibly the Most Spectacular Church Interior in Florence: The Basilica of Santa Croce

If you're looking for one of the most stunning church interiors in Florence, it is natural to begin one's thoughts with a cathedral.  However, the most stunning church interior in Florence is not that of the duomo, nor is it that of the Medici family's personal church of San Lorenzo, if you really want to see one of the most spectacular church interiors in Florence -- if not Tuscany -- then where you want to turn is the basilica of Santa Croce. 

Construction on Santa Croce was began at the end of the 13th century and completed by the end of the 14th. The basilica is home to the Franciscan and the Franciscan themes of the basilica are certainly in evidence within the art of the church -- not to mention the presence of the friars themselves.  The most awe-inspiring portion of the basilica is unquestionably the apse and sanctuary, including the famed Cimabue crucifix from the thirteenth century.  Set around these are frescoes by Agnolo Gaddi (1350-1396) depicting the legend of the True Cross.  Originally the church also featured a chancel/rood screen, however this was removed during the mid 16th century in the wake of the counter-reformation. 

The gilt reredos of the high altar features a central image the Madonna and Child as well as the Four Doctors of the Church; St. Ambrose, St,. Augustine, St. Gregory the Great and St. Jerome. Above these are the Four Evangelists and a scene of Christ and the Virgin surrounded by six-winged seraphim.

While you are looking at this, don't forget to also look up where you'll be treated to a beautiful open beamed ceiling in a basilica style. The beams have been ornamented by coloured, decorative geometric patterns. 

A few other random sights for your enjoyment. 

The Ambo/Pulpit

Do not forget to also look down. While memorials and tombs in church pavements are commonplace, a number of those at Santa Croce are actually three dimensional reliefs, so you will want to watch your step.

One feature you won't want to miss is the old sacristy. Regrettably no sacred vestments are displayed within it, but the woodwork and paintings alone are worth seeing -- and one can well imagine this a a fully functioning sacristy.  The crucifixion shown here is by Taddeo Gaddi (1290-1366), father of the aforementioned Agnolo Gaddi who did the works within the sanctuary. 

Cimabue crucifix, damaged in 1966 as a result of flooding

Within the sacristy can be found a feature which is common to many European sacristies, the altar from which a prelate would vest for pontifical Mass. 

It is worth noting that while our focus has been on the interior of the basilica, the facade is also quite beautiful. Like the duomo of Florence itself, the facade itself was only added in the 19th century. Prior to that it stood as raw, unfinished stone, waiting to be clothed in marble:

A 19th century photo of the unfinished facade of Santa Croce

The completed facade by Nicolo Matas

If you go, you will also want to make certain to visit the neighbouring cloister which also includes the splendid refectory that features Taddeo Gaddi's masterwork, "Tree of Life and Crucifixion."

The Cloister. "OPA" -- Ora Pro Animis (Pray for Souls)

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