List Of Contents | Contents of The Borgias, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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been effected in spite of two other factions, the 'Arrabiati', or
Madmen, who, consisting of the richest and noblest youths of the
Florentine patrician families, desired to have an oligarchical
government; and the 'Bigi', or Greys, so called because they always
held their meetings in the shade, who desired the return of the

The first measure Alexander used against the growing power of
Savonarola was to declare him heretic, and as such banished from the
pulpit; but Savonarola had eluded this prohibition by making his
pupil and friend, Domenico Bonvicini di Pescia, preach in his stead.
The result was that the master's teachings were issued from other
lips, and that was all; the seed, though scattered by another hand,
fell none the less on fertile soil, where it would soon burst into
flower.  Moreover, Savonarola now set an example that was followed to
good purpose by Luther, when, twenty-two years later, he burned Leo
X's bull of excommunication at Wittenberg; he was weary of silence,
so he declared, on the authority of Pope Pelagius, that an unjust
excommunication had no efficacy, and that the person excommunicated
unjustly did not even need to get absolution.  So on Christmas Day,
1497, he declared that by the inspiration of God he renounced his
obedience to a corrupt master; and he began to preach once more in
the cathedral, with a success that was all the greater for the
interruption, and an influence far more formidable than before,
because it was strengthened by that sympathy of the masses which an
unjust persecution always inspires.

Then Alexander made overtures to Leonardo dei Medici, vicar of the
archbishopric of Florence, to obtain the punishment of the rebel:
Leonardo, in obedience to the orders he received, from Rome, issued a
mandate forbidding the faithful to attend at Savonarola's sermons.
After this mandate, any who should hear the discourses of the
excommunicated monk would be refused communion and confession ; and
as when they died they would be contaminated with heresy, in
consequence of their spiritual intercourse with a heretic, their dead
bodies would be dragged on a hurdle and deprived of the rights of
sepulture.  Savonarola appealed from the mandate of his superior both
to the people and to the Signoria, and the two together gave orders
to the episcopal vicar to leave Florence within two hours: this
happened at the beginning of the year 1498.

The expulsion of Leonard's dei Medici was a new triumph for
Savonarola, so, wishing to turn to good moral account his growing
influence, he resolved to convert the last day of the carnival,
hitherto given up to worldly pleasures, into a day of religious
sacrifice.  So actually on Shrove Tuesday a considerable number of
boys were collected in front of the cathedral, and there divided into
bands, which traversed the whole town, making a house-to-house
visitation, claiming all profane books, licentious paintings, lutes,
harps, cards and dice, cosmetics and perfumes--in a word, all the
hundreds of products of a corrupt society and civilisation, by the
aid of which Satan at times makes victorious war on God.  The
inhabitants of Florence obeyed, and came forth to the Piazza of the
Duoma, bringing these works of perdition, which were soon piled up in
a huge stack, which the youthful reformers set on fire, singing
religious psalms and hymns the while.  On this pile were burned many
copies of Boccaccio and of Margante Maggiore, and pictures by Fro
Bartalommeo, who from that day forward renounced the art of this
world to consecrate his brush utterly and entirely to the
reproduction of religious scenes.

A reform such as this was terrifying to Alexander; so he resolved on
fighting Savonarola with his own weapons--that is, by the force of
eloquence.  He chose as the Dominican's opponent a preacher of
recognised talent, called Fra Francesco di Paglia; and he sent him to
Florence, where he began to preach in Santa Croce, accusing
Savonarola of heresy and impiety.  At the same time the pope, in a
new brief, announced to the Signaria that unless they forbade the
arch-heretic to preach, all the goods of Florentine merchants who
lived on the papal territory would be confiscated, and the republic
laid under an interdict and declared the spiritual and temporal enemy
of the Church.  The Signoria, abandoned by France, and aware that the
material power of Rome was increasing in a frightful manner, was
forced this time to yield, and to issue to Savonarola an order to
leave off preaching.  He obeyed, and bade farewell to his
congregation in a sermon full of strength and eloquence.

But the withdrawal of Savonarola, so far from calming the ferment,
had increased it: there was talk about his prophecies being
fulfilled; and some zealots, more ardent than their mastery added
miracle to inspiration, and loudly proclaimed that Savonarola had
offered to go down into the vaults of the cathedral with his
antagonist, and there bring a dead man to life again, to prove that
his doctrine was true, promising to declare himself vanquished if the
miracle were performed by his adversary.  These rumours reached the
ears of Fra Francesco, and as he was a man of warm blood, who counted
his own life as nothing if it might be spent to help his cause, he
declared in all humility that he felt he was too great a sinner for
God to work a miracle in his behalf ; but he proposed another
challenge: he would try with Savonarola the ordeal of fire.  He knew,
he said, that he must perish, but at least he should perish avenging
the cause of religion, since he was certain to involve in his
destruction the tempter who plunged so many souls beside his own into
eternal damnation.

The proposition made by Fra Francesco was taken to Savanarola ; but
as he had never proposed the earlier challenge, he hesitated to
accept the second; hereupon his disciple, Fra Domenico Bonvicini,
more confident than his master in his own power, declared himself
ready to accept the trial by fire in his stead; so certain was he
that God would perform a miracle by the intercession of Savonarola,
His prophet.

Instantly the report spread through Florence that the mortal
challenge was accepted; Savonarola's partisans, all men of the
strongest convictions, felt no doubt as to the success of their
cause.  His enemies were enchanted at the thought of the heretic
giving himself to the flames; and the indifferent saw in the ordeal a
spectacle of real and terrible interest.

But the devotion of Fra Bonvicini of Pescia was not what Fra
Francesco was reckoning with.  He was willing, no doubt, to die a
terrible death, but on condition that Savanarola died with him.  What
mattered to him the death of an obscure disciple like Fra Bonvicini?
It was the master he would strike, the great teacher who must be
involved in his own ruin.  So he refused to enter the fire except
with Savonarola himself, and, playing this terrible game in his own
person, would not allow his adversary to play it by proxy.

Then a thing happened which certainly no one could have anticipated.
In the place of Fra Francesco, who would not tilt with any but the
master, two Franciscan monks appeared to tilt with the disciple.
These were Fra Nicholas de Pilly and Fra Andrea Rondinelli.
Immediately the partisans of Savonarala, seeing this arrival of
reinforcements for their antagonist, came forward in a crowd to try
the ordeal.  The Franciscans were unwilling to be behindhand, and
everybody took sides with equal ardour for one or other party.  All
Florence was like a den of madmen; everyone wanted the ordeal,
everyone wanted to go into the fire; not only did men challenge one
another, but women and even children were clamouring to be allowed to
try.  At last the Signoria, reserving this privilege for the first
applicants, ordered that the strange duel should take place only
between Fra Domenico Bonvicini and Fra Andrea Rondinelli; ten of the
citizens were to arrange all details; the day was fixed for the 7th
of April, 1498, and the place the Piazza del Palazzo.

The judges of the field made their arrangements conscientiously.  By
their orders scaffolding was erected at the appointed place, five
feet in height, ten in width, and eighty feet long.  This scaffolding
was covered with faggots and heath, supported by cross-bars of the
very driest wood that could be found.  Two narrow paths were made,
two feet wide at most, their entrance giving an the Loggia dei Lanzi,
their exit exactly opposite.  The loggia was itself divided into two
by a partition, so that each champion had a kind of room to make his
preparations in, just as in the theatre every actor has his dressing-
room; but in this instance the tragedy that was about to be played
was not a fictitious one.

The Franciscans arrived on the piazza and entered the compartment
reserved for them without making any religious demonstration; while
Savonarola, on the contrary, advanced to his own place in the
procession, wearing the sacerdotal robes in which he had just
celebrated the Holy Eucharist, and holding in his hand the sacred
host for all the world to see, as it was enclosed in a crystal
tabernacle.  Fra Domenico di Pescia, the hero of the occasion,
followed, bearing a crucifix, and all the Dominican monks, their red
crosses in their hands, marched behind singing a psalm; while behind
them again followed the most considerable of the citizens of their
party, bearing torches, for, sure as they were of the triumph of
their cause, they wished to fire the faggots themselves.  The piazza
was so crowded that the people overflowed into all the streets
around.  In every door and window there was nothing to be seen but
heads ranged one above the other; the terraces were covered with
people, and curious spectators were observed an the roof of the Duomo
and on the tap of the Campanile.

But, brought face to face with the ordeal, the Franciscans raised
such difficulties that it was very plain the heart of their champion
was failing him.  The first fear they expressed was that Fra
Bonvicini was an enchanter, and so carried about him some talisman or

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