Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/221

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voluntarily absent from fear of stoning. In the Council and in the magistracies, Savonarola, as was afterwards proved, must have numbered hundreds of secret adherents. Yet one citizen only, Agnolo Niccolini, dared to suggest that death should be commuted for perpetual imprisonment, so that posterity might not lose the fruits of the invaluable works which Savonarola might write in prison. The Florentine constitution was still a sham; there was still no correspondence between real and nominal power; the mandatories of the people were swayed by a ferocious faction, as they had been swayed by a cool-headed dynasty. It is small wonder that the hybrid constitution withered in the first fierce heat; that when a few thousand famished Spaniards rushed the walls of Prato, two audacious youths dragged the chief magistrate of the Florentine Republic from the Palazzo Pubblico, and condescendingly gave him their escort to his home.

In the sentence pronounced on May 22, 1498, Church and State concurred. Savonarola and his companions were declared heretics and schismatics, because they had denied that Alexander was true Pope and had compassed his deposition; because they had distorted Scripture and had revealed the secrets of the confessional under the pretext that they were vouchsafed by visions. Against the State they had sinned in causing the useless expenditure of countless treasure and the death of many innocent citizens, and in keeping the city divided against herself. Unity between the city and the Pope was now complete; Florence obtained the grant of three-tenths of Church revenues; the price, observed the Piagnoni, of them that sold innocent blood was three times ten. Even to the three Friars Alexander sent his absolution. On the morrow came the end. Unfrocked and degraded by the Archbishops Suffragan, condemned as heretics and schismatics by the Papal Commissaries, Savonarola and his Brethren were handed over to the secular arm, the Eight, who passed the formal sentence. Led from the ringhiera along a raised platform to the scaffold, they were hanged from the gibbet, and when life was extinct the pile was lit. The boys of Florence stoned the bodies as they hung. Four years ago they had stoned Piero de' Medici; then, in an access of righteousness, they had stoned notorious sinners. Now they stoned their prophet, and lastly they were to stone to death his executioner. The bodies were cut down into the flames, the ashes carefully collected and thrown into the Arno. The Piazza had been thronged with onlookers, for whom barrels were broached and food provided at government expense. For the crowd it was a vast municipal picnic; the burning of the Friars replaced the burning of the Vanities, even as this had superseded the fireworks and pageants of the Medici.

The horror of the tragedy lies not only in the character of the victims, but in its contrast to the high civilisation of the city which destroyed them. From the rising and suppression of the Ciompi until