Italia - Santa Maria Novella

Poor Mendicants and the Monastic Orders.

During the thirteenth century, thanks to a growing economic development, Florence attracted crowds of outcasts in search of work, finding asylum in the city centre; they camped in villages where they were miserable and unhealthy. They dedicated themselves to support their new mendicant orders. The Franciscans settled east of the city, where they settled in the area of the shops of the dyers and tanners, polluting water and air and where the church of Santa Croce was built, completed around 1385. The Dominicans settled in the city walls to the north-west: first at the church of San Pancrazio, then in that of Santa Maria delle Vigne, which, in the middle of the fourteenth century, was rebuilt and named the Santa Maria Novella. The Carmelites settled in the south, in a booming area, where workers lived in poor carders and Battilana: Santa Maria del Carmine was consecrated in 1422.


The Coats of Arms of the District and the Dominican Order of Santa Maria Novella.

From the middle of the fourteenth century, the city of Florence was divided into four districts: the Holy Spirit in Oltrarno south, Santa Croce in the east, San Giovanni in the North, and Santa Maria Novella to the west, each of which takes the name and emblem 'most important religious building. There are three churches and the baptistery. The emblem of the district of Santa Maria Novella plays the part of the Dominican church of the same name. The latter, in fact, consists of a black and white shield that reproduces the colours of the dress of the Dominican monastery: a white dress, which is a symbol of purity, with a cape and black hood, which is a symbol of penance. On the black capped crest of a star is set to remember the birth of St. Dominic, founder of the Order, while the white part of the friars of the convent of Santa Maria Novella added the sun beaming face of Christ.


The monastery of Santa Maria Novella in the late sixteenth century.

At the end of the sixteenth century, Stefano Bonsignori cosmographer of Grand Duke Francesco I de 'Medici, made the first isometric plan in Florence. In this special plan, it particularly depicts the church of Santa Maria Novella with the large square in front of the monastery complex and large dimensions that is developed on the western side of the basilica, around the cloister. The convent was separated from the church by a smaller cloister, the so-called Green Cloister, which overlooked the main hall of the Chapter or main Section where he met the monastic community, several times a day. This, by the mid-sixteenth century, will be called the Spanish Chapel. They were part of the monastic properties on cultivated land that you see behind the cloisters. In the southern part of the cloister, in 1284, it was set up as an infirmary for the care of the friars.


1385-1612: The Infirmary for the Monks, Pharmaceutical Workshop for all.

In 1385, the new church was completed, the Dominicans of Santa Maria Novella, which enacted the Constitutions of the Order of Friars. From this document we derive precise references to the infirmary of the convent to which he states that "only two rooms are designed for frail and sick: one of meat, the second of other foods," but does not draw any information on the presence of a pharmacy. Only in 1542, in Book of Entries and Exits, that "we kept the fathers an old pharmacy", only for the needs of the monastery. In fact, ordinary legislation and practice of the Dominican order of Santa Maria Novella, was not provided the figure of a herbalist and pharmacist. Yet, in 1609, we have the presence of a friar herbalist for the needs of the convent, while in 1612 the pharmaceutical Workshop opened its services to the public.


Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries:

The Pharmaceutical Workshop of Santa Maria Novella and the Medici's.

To understand the birth and the important development of the pharmaceutical Workshop in Santa Maria Novella in 1612, which opened to service outside the convent, we should also refer to the political context of Florence between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In fact, it is likely that the choices of the Dominicans were influenced and driven by the action of Cosimo I de' Medici and characterized all of his successors, to Ferdinand II, which were applied by deep scientific interests. Just think, in 1543 and in 1545, the foundations of the simple Gardens (medicinal plants) of Pisa and Florence, the publication of an updated Florentine Recipe; the basic fundamental text of the pharmacopoeia of Tuscany and the founding, in 1657, the Accademia del Cimento, the first European scientific societies. Finally, it should be noted that the strong political links between the Medici and the Florentine Dominican Order, who settled in the fifteenth century, never diminished in the following centuries.


1612-1659: The Officina Pharmaceutical Foundry of his Royal Highness.

In 1612 the supervisor in the activities of the Workshop, Angiolo Marchissi, became a famous Florentine apothecary from 1613 by the Dominicans. He held the functions of apothecary of the convent from 1618 to 1659. He was considered a valued scholar and investigator especially in alchemical studies, active during the severe plague epidemic of 1630-31, and on good terms with Ferdinand II de 'Medici, from which he got the honour of official recognition as the “Royal Highness' Foundry” and the Medici coat of arms framing the portrait of St. Peter the Martyr. The shield of the coat of arms - from the grand-ducal crown topped with lily of Florence, is the six medicine bezants (balls), five of which are hand held by putti, gold wrapped in the coils of a large snake that squeezes between the jaws of the sixth ball. The snake, a bird sacred to the healing god Asclepius-greek-Roman Aesculapius, is the symbol of pharmacology and medicine.


The Pharmacy Monastery to today.

The fame of the pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella quickly spread beyond the borders of the Grand Duchy in 1667 so that, in the guide to the sights of the city of Florence, it remembers how the products of the Workshop were requested by "many cities of Italy, and even outside of Italy,” while in the eighteenth century, Cosimo Bucelli realized the Secrets of His Royal Highness the Foundry, an important collection of Workshop preparations. Safeguarded by the Napoleonic suppression, but not those of 1866, the Pharmacy was taken into provisional custody by 'Heritage and Damian in 1871, Cesare Augusto Stefani, his nephew, who became tenant of the City of Florence, the new owner of the property. The centuries-old aromatic activities of the friars of Santa Maria Novella ended, but, whose wisdom, however, continues to express itself in the current private management whose primary objective is to combine the lessons of the past with the needs of the present.

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