Santa Trinita in Florence, one of the most beautiful churches in the city
The Basilica of Santa Trinita is located in the homonymous square at the end of one of the most beautiful streets in Florence, the popular Via Tornabuoni, the street of fashion, shopping and luxury. We are in the historic center of Florence, a stone’s throw from the Lungarni and Palazzo Strozzi, in front of the Column of Justice and surrounded by wonderful buildings. The church combines a fine late Mannerist façade, magnificent Romanesque-Gothic architecture and splendid medieval and Renaissance works of art. In summary: Santa Trinita boasts an exceptional location and many beautiful things to see, yet it is often ignored by tourists visiting Florence… a real mystery!
The history of Santa Trinita
Before the current Basilica of Santa Trinita, here was the small Church of Santa Maria dello Spasimo. Ruled by the monks of Vallombrosa, the church existed at least since 1077 and was in Romanesque style. Visiting Santa Trinita you will notice that the counter-façade masonry differs from the rest of the building and this is because it dates back to the previous church. In addition to the counter-façade, the crypt and some inscriptions belong to the church of Santa Maria dello Spasimo.
Enlarged in the mid-thirteenth century, Santa Trinita was one of the first Gothic-style churches in all of Florence. The works took a long time also because in the middle of the following century the city was struck by the plague. Over time the church was enriched with numerous works of art and in the first half of the fourteenth century it obtained the title of abbey.
Towards the end of the sixteenth century the monks of Vallombrosa commissioned Bernardo Buontalenti to renovate the church and rebuild the adjacent convent. For the church, Buontalenti built a majestic altar complete with a monumental staircase (now preserved in the Church of Santo Stefano al Ponte) and a new facade that reflects the late Mannerist style of that period.
Other interventions in the church were carried out in the nineteenth century and then after the 1966 flood which caused some damage to the building.
The church of Santa Trinita, the Mannerist façade, the Gothic interior and the works of art
Buontalenti’s beautiful façade is divided into three parts according to a symmetrical geometric scheme. There are three portals, as are the naves of the church, and three are the windows: two rectangular immediately above the two side portals and a circular one placed at the top of the pediment. In the center, immediately above the main portal, there is a high relief representing the Trinity.
The interior is divided by a series of pillars supporting pointed arches. Along the side aisles and in the transept there is a series of chapels with frescoes and works of art. All the naves are covered with cross vaults.
Along the left aisle there are the first five chapels: Strozzi Chapel, Bombeni Chapel, Davanzati Chapel, Compagni Chapel and Spini Chapel.
As soon as you enter, immediately on the left, we find the Strozzi Chapel with the Annunciation by Jacopo Chimenti in the center and the statues of Meekness and Peace by Giovan Battista Caccini on its sides. On the walls there are canvases with the Death of Saint Alexis by Cosimo Gamberucci and the Martyrdom of Saint Lucia by Pompeo Caccini, while the fresco on the vault, the Paradise, is by Bernardino Poccetti.
The second chapel on the left contains three paintings: Penitent Saint Jerome by Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio, the Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine of Siena and Saints by Antonio del Ceraiolo and the Annunciation by Michele Tosini.
In the Davanzati Chapel we find the magnificent Coronation of the Virgin and twelve saints by Bicci di Lorenzo and the funeral monument of Giuliano Davanzati. The beautiful tomb consists of a Roman sarcophagus from the 3rd century AD. and a lid with the recumbent figure of the deceased attributed to Bernardo Rossellino. On the walls there are traces of fourteenth-century frescoes with the Stories of Saint Catherine.
In the fourth chapel there is a large detached fresco, San Giovanni Gualberto enthroned between saints and blessed vallombrosani, by Neri di Bicci who is also the author of the panel Annunciation with expulsion of the progenitors. On the external arch there is a second fresco with San Giovanni Gualberto forgiving the killer of his brother by Lorenzo di Bicci. For the uninitiated, San Giovanni Gualberto was the founder of the order of Vallombrosa.
The fifth and last chapel on the left houses the wooden statue of the Magdalene by Desiderio da Settignano.
There are also five chapels along the right aisle: the Gianfigliazzi Chapel, the Gianfigliazzi Chapel, the Cialli-Sernigi Chapel, the Bartolini Salimbeni Chapel and the Ardinghelli Chapel.
In the first you can admire a frescoed sky attributed to Cenni di Francesco and a fourteenth-century wooden crucifix known as the Crucifix of Providence.
The second was built by Matteo Nighetti (architect of the Medici Chapels) and houses an altarpiece Preaching of San Giovanni Battista by Francesco Curradi.
In the Cialli-Sernigi Chapel there is one of the most beautiful works of the church: the Madonna enthroned with the Child and four saints made by Neri di Bicci in 1466.
Another highlight of the visit is the fourth chapel, Bartolini Salimbeni, where you can admire the cycle of frescoes with the Stories of the Virgin and the altarpiece with the Annunciation, made by Lorenzo Monaco between 1420 and 1425.
The last chapel of the right aisle preserves a sixteenth-century altarpiece, Resurrection of Christ and saints, by Maso da San Friano.
Transept and Main Chapel
In the transept, both to the right and to the left of the Main Chapel, we find three chapels. Starting from the left you will find the Chapel of the relics of San Giovanni Gualberto, the Scali Chapel and the Usimbardi Chapel. On the right we have the Doni Chapel, the Sassetti Chapel and the Strozzi Chapel which corresponds to the current sacristy.
In the Scali Chapel you can admire the extraordinary funeral monument of Benozzo Federighi, bishop of Fiesole, made of marble and majolica by Luca della Robbia in 1454.
Continuing towards the altar we find the Usimbardi Chapel which was completely rebuilt in the 17th century. The frescoes on the vault are by Fabrizio Boschi and Matteo Rosselli while those on the external arch are by Giovanni da Ponte (1430-1434). Inside we have a crucifix by Felice Palma and two canvases, Delivery of the Keys of Empoli and San Pietro on the waters by Cristofano Allori and Zanobi Rosi.
In the center of the Main Chapel, the triptych of the Trinity by Mariotto di Nardo, which comes from the Galleria dell’Accademia, shines. The altar is the result of the union of various pieces such as the frontal with the Trinity by Agostino di Duccio and the pillars made by Desiderio da Settignano’s workshop. Unfortunately, very little remains of the fifteenth-century frescoes with Stories from the Old Testament by Alesso Baldovinetti.
The Doni Chapel contains a 14th century crucifix and a table, Madonna dello Spasimo, made at the end of the 15th century by Bernardo di Stefano Rosselli.
Continuing to the right you reach the highlight of the visit: the Sassetti Chapel. Here we find a magnificent altarpiece, Adoration of the Shepherds and a cycle of frescoes both made by Domenico Ghirlandaio. The frescoes, Stories of San Francesco, are particularly important because they offer an interesting insight into 15th-century Florence. Within the scenes that portray the life of St. Francis, several characters from that period have been inserted. Also in the altarpiece there is a reference to Florence: in one of the two cities represented in the background, one can in fact glimpse a building that resembles the Duomo. We are faced with true masterpieces that are well worth the visit even on their own.
Designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti, the Strozzi Chapel preserves various works including a marble Pietà by Vittorio Barbieri and a canvas, Exaltation of Santa Monica, by Alessandro Gherardini.
The church is located in Piazza Santa Trinita. Opening hours: the church of Santa Trinita is open every day from 7 to 12 and from 16 to 19, but I happened to find it also open around 13, probably on certain days the hours vary. Admission is free but I recommend you bring some coins, because you will need them to turn on the lights that illuminate the chapels… trust me, it’s money well spent.