A major archaeological
dig beneath the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore from 1965 to 1973 brought to
light the remains of the old basilica of Santa Reparata, the most tangible
evidence of early Christianity in Florence after the disappointing results from
a dig in Santa Felicita and the difficulty in finding documentary references to
the city's first cathedral of San Lorenzo.
over two and a half metres separate us from the ancient early Christian
basilica of Florence, which was restored on more than one occasion and also used
as a meeting hall by the Parliament of the Republic before the construction of
Reparata was one of the major early Christian complexes in the region of Tuscia,
its importance accentuated by its position directly in front of the baptistry –
in fact fully eight metres closer to it than the present cathedral.
lit and similar to S. Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, with elegant arcades and
marble columns: this is what the very
first version of Santa Reparata must have looked like.
basilica had three aisles with colonnades separating the central nave from the
side aisles, and an enclosure separating the apsidal choir from the area of the
church open to public worship, with an extension down the nave for serving
communion. The basilica's foundation is
said to be the result of a vow, in thanks for the Christian victory over Radagaisus,
King of the Goths, in around 405 AD.
was rebuilt in Carolingian times after being severely damaged in the wars
between the Goths and Byzantium.
phase Santa Reparata maintained its original plan, but with the addition of two
side chapels at its east end, a small crypt and a new floor. We may surmise that it now resembled the
coeval abbey church of Pomposa near Ferrara.
between 1050 and 1106 a raised choir was built above a new crypt where the body
of St. Zenobius, which was translated from the old cathedral of San Lorenzo in
the 9th century, was to rest until the 1440s, at which time it was
moved into the new cathedral. Subsequent
maintenance kept Santa Reparata going until 1379, when a decision was reached
to demolish the basilica completely in order to make way for the new cathedral.
present cathedral it is no exaggeration to state that we have the remains of
fully four ancient churches: the
original basilica and three rebuilds. Stairs situated between the first and second
pilaster on the south side of the nave in the present Duomo lead down to the
archaeological remains of the city's earlier cathedral. The vast area, opened to the public in 1974,
contains extensive remains of the walls and floors of houses dating back to the
Roman city of Florentia. The floor bears
the names of the fourteen donors of Latin origin who funded the basilica's
The floor 's
most striking feature is an extremely fine polychrome mosaic with geometrical
decorations, including the cross motif, reminiscent of the mosaic flooring in
the cathedral of Aquileia. Particularly
worthy of note is a splendid peacock symbolising immortality, one of the few
figurative elements to have survived.
century Florentine fresco which adorned the semicircular wall of the right-hand
apse, the work of a follower of Giotto, suggests that even though Santa
Reparata's fate had been sealed by then and it was now encased in the shell of
the new cathedral, the people of Florence still felt a strong attachment to
their old basilica.
Reparata hosts numerous gravestones, including the very fine tomb of Lando di
Giano, a chaplain of Santa Reparata who died in 1353, the tomb of Niccolò
Squarcialupi who died in 1313, the tomb of Giovanni Di Alamanno de' Medici who
died in 1352, and possibly – though this has yet to be confirmed –the tombs of
two popes, Stephen IX and maybe also Nicholas II, who was bishop of Florence in
1058. While archaeologists also
discovered the tomb of Filippo Brunelleschi, no trace has been found of the
graves of Giotto, Arnolfo di Cambio or Andrea Pisano even though tradition has
it that they too were buried here.