Basilica of San Lorenzo

Without the Medici family, we might not have had the light of the Italian Renaissance. Certainly, without Lorenzo de Medici the Magnificent, Michelangelo would have had a difficult time finding the resources to continue to practice his sublime art that appears in Florence’s Uffizi Gallery and on the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City in Rome. It is only fitting that the burial place of the Medici is housed in such a grand basilica in Florence—the city that sparked the Renaissance.

Basilica of San Lorenzo
Basilica of San Lorenzo

The Basilica di San Lorenzo (Basilica of Saint Lawrence) is one of the largest and oldest churches in the city. Founded in 393 AD, and located outside the original city walls, it served for 300 years as the cathedral of the city, a position now held by the beautiful Florence Duomo. It was rebuilt in the eleventh century, and the Basilica of San Lorenzo also served as the family chapel of the wealthy and powerful Medici family. In the early fifteenth century, Giovanno de Medici offered to help finance a new church. The new basilica in Florence became the burial place of the Medici beginning with the burial of Cosimo il Vecchio, who died in 1464. The practice of burying family members continued here through Cosimo de Medici III, who died in the eighteenth century.

The Medici sponsored Basilica di San Lorenzo was designed by leading architect Filippo Brunelleschi, who invented the concept of linear perspective and designed the revolutionary freestanding dome of the Florence Duomo. This revolutionary design helped to spark the Renaissance and served as the model for the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. After numerous design changes altering much of Brunelleschi’s plans and lack of full funding, the Medici took over full financial funding and work continued. The Basilica of San Lorenzo was finally completed sometime around the end of the fifteenth century. Even today, however, there is no new facade, although plans were drawn up by Michelangelo.

The current plain brick exterior of the Basilica di San Lorenzo is simple and quite stark compared to the artistic riches inside. In the apse is the incredibly beautiful Medici Chapel, where 50 members of the Medici family are buried. It was still being paid for in 1743 when the last member of the family died. Above this is the Chapel of the Princes, where the Grand Dukes are buried. There were attempts purchase the actual Crypt of Christ and then to steal it from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem so it could be placed here. Fortunately, all those efforts failed.

The Basilica of San Lorenzo serves almost as one of Florence’s many museums, since numerous priceless works of art are contained in it. There are beautiful frescoes by Bronzino, two bronze pulpits by Donatello, an altarpiece by Fra Filippo Lippi, a Medici tomb by Verrocchio, and more. The New Sacristy and many of the Medici family tombs were designed by Michelangelo. In fact, the artists represented in the church is a veritable who’s who of the Italian Renaissance, and the works of these artists appear in museums from Rome, Milan, and Venice in Italy to England, Spain, and even the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

This basilica in Florence is located near the main market area of the city, where you will find wonderful shopping and dining opportunities. It is less than half a mile from the Uffizi Gallery, the Arno River and its famous Ponte Vecchio. No photography at all is allowed in the church.

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