On This Day
1498 – Girolamo Savonarola is burned at the stake in Florence, Italy.
Girolamo Savonarola (Italian: [dʒiˈrɔːlamo savonaˈrɔːla]; 21 September 1452 – 23 May 1498) was an Italian Dominican friar and preacher active in Renaissance Florence. He was known for his prophecies of civic glory, the destruction of secular art and culture, and his calls for Christian renewal. He denounced clerical corruption, despotic rule and the exploitation of the poor. He prophesied the coming of a biblical flood and a new Cyrus from the north who would reform the Church. In September 1494, when Charles VIII of France invaded Italy, and threatened Florence, such prophecies seemed on the verge of fulfilment. While Savonarola intervened with the French king, the Florentines expelled the ruling Medici and, at the friar’s urging, established a “popular” republic. Declaring that Florence would be the New Jerusalem, the world centre of Christianity and “richer, more powerful, more glorious than ever”, he instituted an extreme puritanical campaign, enlisting the active help of Florentine youth.
In 1495 when Florence refused to join Pope Alexander VI’s Holy League against the French, the Vatican summoned Savonarola to Rome. He disobeyed and further defied the pope by preaching under a ban, highlighting his campaign for reform with processions, bonfires of the vanities, and pious theatricals. In retaliation, the pope excommunicated him in May 1497, and threatened to place Florence under an interdict. A trial by fire proposed by a rival Florentine preacher in April 1498 to test Savonarola’s divine mandate turned into a fiasco, and popular opinion turned against him. Savonarola and two of his supporting friars were imprisoned. On 23 May 1498, Church and civil authorities condemned, hanged, and burned the three friars in the main square of Florence.
Savonarola’s devotees, the Piagnoni, kept his cause of republican freedom and religious reform alive well into the following century, although the Medici—restored to power in 1512 with the help of the papacy—eventually broke the movement. Some Protestants consider Savonarola to be a vital precursor of the Reformation.
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Born On This Day
1820 – James Buchanan Eads, American engineer, designed the Eads Bridge (d. 1887)
Captain James Buchanan Eads (May 23, 1820 – March 8, 1887) was a world-renowned American civil engineer and inventor, holding more than 50 patents.
Early life and education
Eads was born in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, and named for his mother’s cousin, future President of the United States James Buchanan. Eads’ father, Thomas C. Eads pursued a fortune to no avail and the family moved several times. Eads grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. The family lost all of their possessions in a steamboat fire as they landed in St. Louis in 1833. Thomas Eads’ business ventures in St. Louis failed, and he abandoned his family and moved upriver.
James Eads was largely self-educated; at the age of 13, he left school to take up work to help support the family. He sold apples on the streets of St. Louis to help support his sisters and mother, who ran a boardinghouse. One of his first jobs was at the Williams & Duhring dry-goods store run by Barrett Williams. Williams allowed the young Eads to spend time in his library, located above the store. In Eads’s spare time, he read books on physical science, mechanics, machinery, and civil engineering. When Eads became successful later in life and Williams suffered hardship, Eads reciprocated Williams’ generosity by providing money for Williams’ comfort in his old age.
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Excellent comments at the end of the article.
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