All Roads Lead to Florence

Lost and Found on the Path to Rome

Peter: “Lord, wither goest thou?”
Christ: “I go to Rome to be crucified.”

The monastic choir stalls of the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Florence were occupied not by the hermit-monks of the Camaldolese Order to whom they belonged but by laymen, members of the Platonic Academy.  From the lectern, the Latin periods being intoned were not from Leo, Gregory, Augustine, or Jerome, but from a new translation of Plotinus.  The one presiding by the altar was not a prior but a philosopher, Marsilio Ficino, founder of the Academy, translator of the works of Plato and of his Alexandrian alter ego.  We would not know of the replacement of the nine psalms of Matins with the Enneads on a morning in early fall 1487 if it were not for the existence of a letter of outraged protest from the prior general of the Camaldolese Benedictines to the prior of the church where the uncanonical choral solenne tornata accademica was held.  Yet even if the letter had been lost, the long view of subsequent history would perhaps have justified a suspicion that such things had occurred.  Indeed, three centuries later, these strange, proto-masonic matins were to have an echo in another church dedicated under the name Mother of the Savior when the Goddess of Reason was enthroned before the chancel of Notre Dame in Paris in November 1793, to the strains...

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