Bygone Florence: Church of San Pier Maggiore
Florence has changed its appearance many times over the centuries, and a great number of buildings was lost due to demolitions and renovations. This is the case of the Church of San Pier Maggiore, of which only traces of the arches of the external portico of the church remain in the homonymous square from which Borgo Albizi starts. Under the arch corresponding to the central nave of the former church, today a road passes, called Via San Pier Maggiore.
Built in the 11th century, it was a Benedictine monastery for women, full of valuable works of art, some of which were signed by Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Orcagna and Perugino.
The church was much loved
and the nobles competed to decorate it, but it was demolished in 1784 by order
of the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo,
because it was considered unsafe: a column had collapsed revealing that it was
made of wood covered with stone slabs. Although the column was not
load-bearing, this accident was the perfect excuse for the Grand Duke - who
wanted to reduce the presence of religious institutions in the city - to
demolish the entire building.
View of Piazza San Pier Maggiore with the homonymous church, Giuseppe Zocchi, 1744.
The families who had commissioned the works of art for the church were ordered to withdrawn the items before the demolition. Among these, a fresco depicting the Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Perugino was saved and is now kept in the offices of the Ente Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze, where it is possible to admire a vast collection of artworks, including views of Florence that show places now lost like the Church of San Pier Maggiore.
The fresco was transported to the chapel of Palazzo Albizi where it remained until 1883, after which it was sold and its traces were lost until it was recovered in London in 1990 and purchased by the Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze.
Many do not even realize that those arches that you see as soon as you enter the square coming from Borgo Albizi are the remains of an ancient church. It is the charm of Florence, always ready to surprise by revealing, to those who know how to observe, new chapters of its history.