On a recent journey to Italy, photojournalist Alan Edgecomb visited the Baptistery of St John, Florence, or the Battistero di San Giovanni. He shares his thoughts on the remarkable historical splendour.
I did not know anything about a Baptistery until I arrived in Florence and discovered the elaborate sacred space called – a baptistery.
These were built near a cathedral as a place to instruct new converts to Christianity and where the bishop would ultimately baptise the new believer.
The baptistry became less important once there were fewer adults welcomed into the church.
The octagonal Baptistery of St John in Florence is one of the oldest buildings in the city, constructed between 1059 and 1128 in the Florentine Romanesque style on the site of a 4th Century baptistry.
The baptistry has three sets of impressive bronze doors.
The oldest is the South Door cast by sculptor Andrea Pisano between 1330 and 1336 and tells the story of the life and death of one of the church’s most illustrious saints.
The uppermost panels depict episodes from the life of St John the Baptist while the others portray the Christian virtues.
This in itself evokes spiritual awareness in the believer, irrespective of doctrinal persuasion.
The North Door contains scenes from the New Testament and the four evangelists and four Church Fathers.
Upon entering the baptistry, one cannot help but notice the high dome and the mosaics of the huge figure of Christ in Judgement.
Scenes from the Last Judgement on three of the dome’s eight segments takes one’s breath away.
While not as large as the Baptistry in Pisa, it is an intensely spiritual place with echoes of past ceremonies, including the baptism of members of the Medici family.
Pause for a while and breathe and listen – and there is something explicable which can only be described as awesome.
On June 24 each year, Florence celebrates the feast of their patron saint, St John the Baptist.
This starts with a parade of colourful and ordered processions lending itself to the celebratory yet solemn occasion leading to the Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall, on the Piazza della Signoria and then to the Baptistry.
The participants of the procession carry symbolic gifts, including candles.
In previous times, candles were decorated and donated to help illuminate the cathedral.
Mass is celebrated and later in the afternoon the traditional historical Florentine Soccer match is played.
The day finishes with a fireworks display.
This annual event is a transportation across the centuries and makes for a unique experience to any tourist or student fortunate enough to experience this event.
As an aspirant historian of church history, I observed with insight that in April 1348, a plague called the Black Death, struck Florence which slashed the city’s population from 90,000 to 45,000.
The world has seen a cycle of these similar virulent pandemics.
As Florence did of old – it resurrected itself to a historical splendour the pilgrim now experiences. Dei gratia.