Liturgy and politics in renaissance florence: The creation of the 1526 office for St. Zenobius

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Tourists traveling to Florence today quickly learn of the close association between the cathedral and the Virgin Mary. Scenes from her life-the work of the most prominent Florentine artists-are present everywhere, both inside and outside the church vessel. Since 1296, the cathedral has indeed been dedicated to Mary, specifically to Santa Maria del Fiore. Without descending to the ancient crypt, however, few visitors realize that the present, grand structure lies upon the remains of a much earlier cathedral, founded in the ninth century and dedicated to a somewhat obscure saint from Palestine, St. Reparata. While both Mary and Reparata are, of course, important patron saints, they are not the ones most closely associated with the cathedral. That privileged position belongs to Zenobius, the only patron saint to have direct ties with the Florentine ecclesia maior. Born in the fourth century, St. Zenobius is traditionally regarded as the first bishop of Florence. Special authority was bestowed upon him by St. Ambrose, one of the four Fathers of the Latin Church and a friend of Zenobius. It was, in fact, during his visit to Florence in 393-394 that the great Milanese bishop promoted the election of Zenobius to the Florentine episcopate. In the late ninth century, Zenobius's remains were translated from the church of San Lorenzo to the cathedral of Santa Reparata, where they are still preserved today. St. Zenobius was and remains the titular saint of the most prestigious of the fifteen tribune chapels of Santa Maria del Fiore, located at the head of the central tribune, directly behind the high altar. Thus, the close historical-religious connection and the privileged relationship between St. Zenobius and the cathedral received an appropriate physical representation within the architectural space. As the cult of other saints waned through time, that of St. Zenobius was rekindled and sustained throughout the centuries. The endurance of his cult is due in large part to the Florentines’ ability to reinvent his role and to transform his very nature, often to suit the needs and carry out the agendas of ecclesiastical and civic leaders. At times of military conflict and international political strife, Zenobius’s fundamental position as pater ecclesiae (father of the church) was extended to that of defensor civitatis (defender of the city).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationMusic and Culture in the Middle Ages and Beyond
Subtitle of host publicationLiturgy, Sources, Symbolism
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781316663837
ISBN (Print)9781107158375
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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