The column of san Zanobi
Last week San Zanobi (Saint Zenobius) was celebrated in Florence, so you might have seen a garland of flowers at the base of the column in Piazza Duomo - if you ever even noticed the column in the first place.
Many people, including Florentines, pass by it every day not caring much for its presence, but how can we blame them when they are so intent in taking in the beauty of the Duomo and Baptistery of Florence?
It is always worth the while though, to take some time to discover the curious architectonic elements such as this, that are a testimony of the history and tradition of Florence.
San Zanobi was the first bishop of Florence, beloved by the Florentines and famous for performing several miracles, including resurrecting the dead. The “Three Miracles of San Zanobi” by Botticelli gives us an idea of the “talents” of the saint, depicted in the act of resurrecting the son of a French pilgrim, of exorcising two young men possessed by the devil and of giving back the sight to a blind pagan who had promised to convert to Christianity.
Apparently, even in death he managed to perform a miracle! He died around the year 430, and his body was placed in a sarcophagus next to the altar of the church of San Lorenzo. In 860, fearing the invasion and consequent raids of both Vikings and Hungarians, the remains of San Zanobi were moved from their original location to the Cathedral of Santa Reparata.
The coffin was transported by a procession to his new home, and It is said that during this relocation, it grazed a dried elm tree that grew in Piazza Duomo. At this touch the old elm instantly revived and began to bloom again.
The tree became the subject of worshipping by the Florentines for centuries until it finally died of old age. According to tradition, from the wood of the elm was carved a crucifix which is now kept in the church of San Giovannino dei Cavalieri in via San Gallo.
In the exact spot where the tree once stood - on the side of the Baptistery - was then erected a commemorative marble column topped with a cross and decorated with a bronze elm tree on the stem.
It is not clear when the column was erected, but we know it did not have an easy life: it was swept away by the flood of 1333 and was replaced in 1334. Four years later the cross was placed to the top of the column, while the inscription on the stem recounting the miracle of San Zanobi was added in 1375, but In 1501 the cross fell again during the preparations for the celebration of Saint John, patron saint of the city, and was restored once more.
In spite of everything, the column is still there and every year on January the 26th to celebrate San Zanobi, a garland with red and white carnations is set at its base.
If you take a look at the façade of the Duomo you will also find the statue of an elderly man with a beard and mitre, it is the very San Zanobi, looking as if he’s keeping an eye on his column.