Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/180

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CHAPTER V.
FLORENCE (I): SAVONAROLA.


Had Girolamo Savonarola died before the French invasion of 1494 he would scarcely have been distinguished above other missionary friars, who throughout the fifteenth century strove faithfully to revive the flagging religion of Italy. The French King and the Italian Dominican were poles asunder in character and aims, yet their fortunes were curiously linked. On Charles VIII's first success Savonarola became a personage in history, and his own fate was sealed by the Frenchman's death. The Friar's public career was very short, less than four years in all, but, apostle of peace as he was, it was a truceless war. Nor did the grave bring peace. Savonarola's ashes were cast into the running Arno, yet they seem to be burning still. Twenty years after his death the old passions which his life had fired blazed up in Florence yet more fiercely; his followers held the town against Pope and Emperor without, against Medicean and aristocrat within. Until this very day Catholics and Protestants, Dominicans and Jesuits, men of spiritual and men of secular temperament, fight over Savonarola's memory with all the old zest of the last decade of the fifteenth century.

San Bernardino and Savonarola were both missionary friars; not half a century divided them; they made their homes in neighbour towns; their objects were similar or the same; neither could claim from the other the palm of personal holiness or unselfish sacrifice. Yet how very different were their ends, how different their fate in after history! The impersonal symbol of the one, the IHS, is set in its blue and primrose disc as in a summer sundown; the stern figure of the other, grasping the crucifix, stands out in its medal against a lowering sky rent by the sword of an avenging God. Why is the preacher of madcap Siena an admitted Saint, and why does the merest hint of the canonisation of the evangelist of sober Florence convert men of peace into fiery controversialists throughout Western Europe?

Savonarola's early life was as uneventful as that of most preaching friars. His grandfather, a Paduan, was a physician of repute at the court of Ferrara; his father a nonentity even for the hagiologist; his