Girolamo Savonarola

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Girolamo Savonarola

Savonarola, Girolamo

(jērō`lämō sävōnärō`lä), 1452–98, Italian religious reformer, b. Ferrara. He joined (1475) the Dominicans. In 1481 he went to San Marco, the Dominican house at Florence, where he became popular for his eloquent sermons, in which he attacked the vice and worldliness of the city, as well as for his predictions (several of which, including the death date of Innocent VIII, turned out to be true). In 1491 he became prior of San Marco, and after the death of Lorenzo de' Medici, who was his enemy, and the subsequent exile of the Medici (1494) he became the real spiritual ruler of the city. He was uncompromisingly severe in his condemnation of what he considered the paganism of the times and called for a regeneration of spiritual and moral values and a devotion to asceticism. When Charles VIII of France invaded Italy in 1494 (as Savonarola had predicted), Savonarola supported him, hoping that Charles would lead the way to the establishment of a democratic government in Florence and to the reform of the scandalously corrupt court of Pope Alexander VI. Alexander, understandably infuriated, ordered Savonarola to refrain from preaching; however, he continued to preach, and the pope excommunicated him for disobedience in 1497. Savonarola now declared Alexander no true pope, being elected by simony. The people of Florence, who had for a time staunchly supported Savonarola, tired of his rigid demands. Hostility toward him grew, led especially by local Franciscans, and in Mar., 1498, the government, threatened by a papal interdict, asked him to stop preaching. His ruin came suddenly when one of his disciples accepted an ordeal by fire to prove Savonarola's holiness. Rain prevented the event. Nevertheless, there were riots, and Savonarola and two disciples were arrested by the city. Under torture he confessed to being a false prophet, or so it was announced. The three were hanged for schism and heresy; papal commissioners had passed on the sentence, which was assured by Alexander's vindictiveness.


See biographies by P. Villari (2 vol., tr. 1888; repr. 1972), R. Ridolfi (1959), and R. R. Renner (1965); study by D. Weinstein (1970).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Savonarola, Girolamo


Born Sept. 21, 1452, in Ferrara; died May 23, 1498, in Florence. Florentine religious and political figure; poet.

Savonarola received a humanist education in the household of his grandfather, a famous physician and scholar. In 1475 he ran away from home and entered the Dominican monastery in Bologna. He delivered sermons in Ferrara beginning in 1479 and in Florence, San Gimignano, and Brescia beginning in 1482. In 1491 he became prior of the Monastery of St. Mark in Florence, where he restored the strict monastic rule. In his sermons Savonarola spoke out against the tyranny of the Medicis, denounced the social inequities dominating Florence, condemned the secular character of humanist culture, and strongly attacked the policies and way of life of the popes, demanding a fundamental reform of the Catholic Church in conformity with theapostolic ideal.

After the fall of the Medici tyranny in 1494, Savonarola helped establish a republican system in Florence and proposed a plan for social and political reforms reflecting the interests of the middle urban strata. He used a group of fanatical young people as an instrument of his policies, transforming them into a “moral militia” and organizing ceremonial “burnings of the vanities”—bonfires of everyday items, works of art, and books that contradicted the Christian moral code. Savonarola’s denunciations of papal policies brought him into sharp conflict with Pope Alexander VI, who banned his sermons and in 1497 excommunicated him. In response, Savonarola issued an appeal for the convocation of a church council to overthrow the pope. The Florentine Signoria (the city’s governing body), which did not want to break with Rome, arrested Savonarola on religious and political charges. Condemned by the Signoria, he was hanged and his body burned.

Savonarola wrote religious sermons and poems, many of which were in the form of carnival songs. His sermons were later used by supporters of the Reformation.

T. Mann portrayed Savonarola in the play Fiorenza.


Poesie. Edited by M. Martelli. Rome [1968].


Villari, P. Dzhirolamo Savonarola i ego vremia, vols. 1–2. [St. Petersburg] 1913. (Translated from Italian.)
Gramsci, A. Izbr. proizv., vol. 3. Moscow, 1959. (Translated from Italian.)
Il processo di G. Savonarola. [Bologna]-Milan, 1960.
Ferrara, M. Bibliografia savonaroliana. Florence, 1958.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.