26th April, 1478
A day like many others in Renaissance Florence. A Sunday. A day when everyone went to Mass, to kneel, to pray, to take communion. But it was also a day when blood would be spilt on holy ground.
The Medici family were the de facto rulers of Florence, through their influence in the Signoria, the city's government, but they had rivals. These rivals were led by members of the Pazzi family, an old family whose history went back to the Crusades. In their desperation to seize power, they decided to kill the leading members of the Medici clan: Lorenzo (known as Il Magnifico, the Magnificent) and his younger brother, Giuliano, and this assassination was to take place during Mass in the Cathedral de Santa Maria del Fiore, the Duomo.
Giuliano was killed, stabbed nineteen times, but Lorenzo managed to escape with a flesh wound to his neck. In his grief, his revenge was ruthless, and the conspirators were rounded up and hanged from the walls of Palazzo Signoria and the Bargello, the city's prison.
This event plays a central role in The Rose of Florence, as I wanted to explore how this bloody event might have affected the common folk, not just those in power. I tried not to alter any details, apart from the date. In the book, I describe it as Easter Sunday, a legend that was perpetuated by the Medici family themselves. In fact, it took place a few weeks afterwards, the last Sunday of the Easter period. Here's a short excerpt from The Rose, in which we see the beginnings of the chaos that ensued that day.
Eventually, the priest came to the most solemn section of the Mass, the consecration of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Everyone bowed their heads in reverence as the bell rang.
At that moment, from the back of the church came a loud shout. “Traditore! Traitor!” and somebody screamed, and then many more people screamed.
Matteo turned to look at what was happening but couldn’t see, as the congregation had risen and were starting to move towards the disturbance. However, he could see that it came from the area where Giuliano had been standing. It couldn’t possibly be an attack. Nobody would dare such a thing on sacred ground, and in the middle of Mass too. Perhaps there had been an accident. He heard someone shouting again, and his eye caught sight of a knife, and…was that blood? Yes, it was!
The moments following the realisation that someone was indeed launching an attack on the Medici passed in slow motion for Matteo. He could feel a wave of panic spreading as the whole congregation tried to escape the nave. He heard some people crying that the dome was collapsing. A glance above him confirmed that the dome was intact, and no such disaster was imminent. Other more fatalistic members of the congregation were announcing the arrival of Judgement Day. It took but a second for Matteo to realise that this was simply an assassination attempt, sacrilegious as it was. His first thought was for Francesco and Niccolò, but they were still in front of him, safe but looking equally as confused as many of the crowd.
Lorenzo was trying to make his way to the back of the nave, to his brother, but the chaos in front of him made it impossible to pass.
His mother, Lucrezia Tornabuoni, however, had managed to run along the side aisle to her younger son, and her screams echoed around the great cavernous space, enough to tear the heart of any man.