Hidden places: Chiesa dei Santi Apostoli
One of the most ancient buildings in Florence is certainly the Church of Santi Apostoli. It faces Piazza del Limbo, so called because here once stood a cemetery for all those children that had died before they were baptized, who - as Dante described in the Divine Comedy - remained in an indefinite part of the otherworld called Limbo.
It is also known as the Vecchio Duomo, a name given by the citizens for its central role in the Florentine traditions such as the ceremony of the Scoppio del Carro. Here are kept the flints from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, a relic used in the Easter ceremony.
According to a marble plaque on its façade decorated in simple Romanesque style, the Church was founded in the year 800 at the presence of none less than Charlemagne, but historians doubt this to be true, and date it back to around the end of the XI century.
Though remodeled in the XV and XVI centuries, this is one of the few churches in the city to have maintained its ancient features. Apparently, it was Michelangelo who convinced the rich Florentine banker , who planned to raise the ground level, to preserve the church as it was.
When you step into the church you find yourself in a timeless place, the simplicity of the interior is said to have inspired Brunelleschi in its recovery of the classical forms while creating his model for San Lorenzo and Santo Spirito.
The plan is in Paleo-Christian style, the naves are delimited by columns in green marble from with capitals stripped from ancient Roman remains, the beautiful decorated wooden ceiling was added in 1333 and on the pavement there is a mosaic from the original structure.
Decorating the lateral naves are numerous artworks, some of them damaged by the flood of the 1966, but other in good conditions. Among them, we find a masterpiece by Giorgio Vasari, the Immaculate Conception of the 1540, a painting that was taken as an example by many other artists to represent this theme, extremely innovative for the time. Original sin was a certainly appropriate theme considering the church was facing a cemetery were rested non-baptized children. At the moment the altarpiece has left its usual place and is on display at Palazzo Strozzi for the 500 in Florence exhibition.
At the back of the left nave we find the beautiful tabernacle made of polychrome majolica by Giovanni della Robbia, housing the stones used to light the fire that will led to the explosion of the Cart during Easter celebrations.
The Church of Santi Apostoli, with its quaint little square, is a place where you can find peace away from the tourists that crowd the other parts of the city center.
This ancient structure is proof that we should not judge a book by its cover. Most of the time, the modest and secluded places, are the richest in history and the ones you should be looking out for.