Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Savonarola, Girolamo
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

(jērō'lämō sävōnärō'lä), 1452–98, Italian religious reformer, b. Ferrara. He joined (1475) the Dominicans. In 1481 he went to San Marco, the Dominican house at Florence, where he became popular for his eloquent sermons, in which he attacked the vice and worldliness of the city, as well as for his predictions (several of which, including the death date of Innocent VIII, turned out to be true). In 1491 he became prior of San Marco, and after the death of Lorenzo de' Medici, who was his enemy, and the subsequent exile of the Medici (1494) he became the real spiritual ruler of the city. He was uncompromisingly severe in his condemnation of what he considered the paganism of the times and called for a regeneration of spiritual and moral values and a devotion to asceticism. When Charles VIII of France invaded Italy in 1494 (as Savonarola had predicted), Savonarola supported him, hoping that Charles would lead the way to the establishment of a democratic government in Florence and to the reform of the scandalously corrupt court of Pope Alexander VI. Alexander, understandably infuriated, ordered Savonarola to refrain from preaching; however, he continued to preach, and the pope excommunicated him for disobedience in 1497. Savonarola now declared Alexander no true pope, being elected by simony. The people of Florence, who had for a time staunchly supported Savonarola, tired of his rigid demands. Hostility toward him grew, led especially by local Franciscans, and in Mar., 1498, the government, threatened by a papal interdict, asked him to stop preaching. His ruin came suddenly when one of his disciples accepted an ordeal by fire to prove Savonarola's holiness. Rain prevented the event. Nevertheless, there were riots, and Savonarola and two disciples were arrested by the city. Under torture he confessed to being a false prophet, or so it was announced. The three were hanged for schism and heresy; papal commissioners had passed on the sentence, which was assured by Alexander's vindictiveness.

  • See biographies by P. Villari (2 vol., tr. 1888; repr. 1972),.
  • R. Ridolfi (1959), and R. R. Renner (1965);.
  • study by D. Weinstein (1970).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

Related Articles


Full text Article Savonarola, Girolamo (1452 - 1498)
Thames & Hudson Dictionary of the Italian Renaissance, The

Dominican friar and ‘martyr’, was born in Ferrara, the son of a prominent and scholarly doctor. After a sudden...

Full text Article SAVONAROLA, GIROLAMO (1452-1498)
Dictionary of Italian Literature

church reformer, preacher, and writer Savonarola was born in Ferrara. He received a sound education in Scholastic theology and gained a thorough...

Full text Article Savonarola, Girolamo (1452 - 1498)
The Encyclopaedia of the Renaissance

Savonarola was born in Ferrara and became a Dominican friar at Bologna in 1475. From 1482 he lectured at the convent of S Marco,...

See more from Credo