Churches & Cathedrals

The churches and cathedrals of Florence hold an infinite amount of treasures to this day. From the world famous Duomo to the smaller churches like Santa Felicita there are so many paintings, sculptures, relics and other things to see in Florence's churches that it would probably take a lifetime to count them all. In this section we point out both the major and minor, and some special "off the beaten" path things to see.

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Below are some of our most recent entries posted in the Churches & Cathedrals category - use the links at the end of the page to access all the articles individually.

Santa Maria Novella

Started in 1221, Santa Maria Novella is chronologically the oldest great basilica in Florence. It was designed by two Dominican friars, Fra Sisto Fiorentino and Fra Ristoro da Campi. Further work on the basilica continued on commission from Giovanni di Paolo Rucellai who asked Leone Battista Alberti to complete the magnificent façade. The structure is a good example of humanist architecture, with proportion and classically-inspired detailing creating a balance with the pre-existing medieval part of the façade.

Santa Maria Novella

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San Lorenzo

There has been a church on the site of San Lorenzo since 393, making it one of the oldest churches in Florence. The church as it appears now, however, is the result of a renovation begun in 1421 by Giovanni di Bicci de'Medici, who commissioned a new design for the church from Filippo Brunelleschi. This began a relationship between the Medici family and San Lorenzo that lasted for more than a century. The family lavished money on the church with a variety of projects, including the Medici Chapel.

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San Frediano in Cestello

The Church of San Frediano in Cestello is located in the Oltrarno section of Florence. The unfinished façade faces the Arno (with the Piazza del Cestello between the church and the river) and the rear of the church runs along Borgo San Frediano.

(Click the image below for a slide show)

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Russian Orthodox Church

Russian-Orthodox-Church.jpg This beautiful church was built by the Russian community of Florence which played a signficant role in the development and history of the city. It is officially called the Orthodox Russian church of the Nativity of Christ and Saint Nicholas in Florence.

The church was built between 1899 and 1903 by the talented Russian architect Michail Prà©obraženskij. It has five onion-shaped domes and houses tall figures of Orthodox saints that stand among the colored mural paintings and byzantine icons.

It is possible to visit the church by appoitment. Call Padre Georgij Blatinskij at +39 055-490148 for more information.

Here are some photos from a Christening ceremony in the church from November 2010.

San Miniato al Monte

san-miniato-al-monte.jpg The Basilica of San Miniato al Monte is one of the oldest churches in Florence and is frequently called the finest Romanesque basilica in all of Italy. The church as we know it today was started around 1018 and took over one hundred years to complete. St. Minias was possibly from Armenia and believed to have been martyred around 250 (he was beheaded during the anti-Christian persecutions of the Emperor Decius and was said to have picked up his head, crossed the Arno and walked up the hill of Mons Fiorentinus to his hermitage and buried on this hillside). The church is in a wonderful state of preservation and there are several important works inside, including a tabernacle attributed to Rossellino, the tomb of the Cardinal of Portugal with works by Rossellino, Della Robbia and others, frescoes by Agnolo Gaddi, and an amazing fresco cycle of the life of St. Benedict by Spinello Aretino, to name just some of them.

Photo album of San Miniato from our sister site Florence Journal.

Great Synagogue

Great-Synagogue.jpg The Great Synagogue (Tempio Maggiore) was built between 1874 and 1882. The architects were Mariano Falcini, Professor Vincente Micheli, and Marco Treves who built the structure in the Spanish-Moresco style.

Layers of travertine and granite alternate create a striped effect on the facade. Old photographs show bold red and beige stripes, but the bold colors of the stone have faded over time, leaving a more mottled effect.

The overall form of the synagogue is the cruciform plan of Hagia Sophia. The corner towers are topped with horseshoe-arched towers themselves topped with onion domes in the Moorish Revival style. Three horseshoe arches form the main entrance and above them rise tiers of ajimez windows with their paired horseshoe arches sharing a single column.

Inside the building the walls are almost completely covered with colored designs in Moorish patterns. The interior mosaics and frescoes inside are by Giovanni Panti. Giacomo del Medico designed the great arch.

During World War II Fascist troops used the synagogue as a vehicle garage. In August 1944 retreating German troops worked with Italian Fascists to destroy the synagogue, but the Italian resistance managed to defuse most of the explosives. Only a limited amount of damage was done. The synagogue was restored after the war. It was restored again after damage by massive flooding in 1966.

The synagogue has been widely admired, and the 1892 Eutaw Place Temple of Temple Oheb Shalom in Baltimore, Maryland, represents a replica.

Santa Maria del Carmine

Santa-maria-del-carmine.JPG Santa Maria del Carmine is a church of the Carmelite Order. It is famous for its Brancacci Chapel which houses magnificent Renaissance frescoes by Masaccio and Masolino da Panicale, later finished by Filippino Lippi.

The church, dedicated to the BeatঠVirginis Mariঠde monte Carmelo, began to be built in 1268 as part of the Carmelite convent, which still exists today. Of the original edifice Some Romanesque-Gothic remains of the original structure can still be seen on the sides of the church. The complex was enlarged once in 1328 and again in 1464, when the capitular hall and the refectory were added.

Renovated again in 16th-17th centuries, the church was damaged by a fire in 1771 and rebuilt internally in 1782. The façade, like many other Florentine churches, remained unfinished. The fire did not touch the sacristy and fortunately many artworks survived, including the stories of St. Cecilia attributed to Lippo d'Andrea and the marble monument of Pier Soderini by Benedetto da Rovezzano. The vault of the nave has a trompe-l'oeil fresco by Domenico Stagi.

The Bracacci Chapel also survived the fire and was also restored due to the intervention of a Florentine noblewoman who firmly opposed the covering of the frescoes. The Chapel is home to famous frescoes by Masaccio and Masolino, considered the first masterworks of the Italian Renaissance. Masaccio's master, Masolino, commissioned by a wealthy merchant, Felice Brancacci, began work on the chapel in 1425 but the project was soon taken over by his pupil whose treatment of figures in space made the frescoes among the most important to have come out of the Early Renaissance. The scenes by Masaccio are the Expulsion from Paradise, The Tribute Money St Peter Healing a Lame-Man, and St Peter Raising Tabitha from the dead. The cycle was finished by Filippino Lippi

The Corsini Chapel of the church was built by the Corsini, probably the richest family in Florence during the 17th-18th centuries. The chapel is dedicated to St. Andrew Corsini, a Carmelite bishop of Fiesole who was canonized in 1629. The architect Pier Francesco Silvani choose a Baroque style for the chapel. The small dome was painted by Luca Giordano in 1682. The elaborated rococo ceiling is the work of one of the most important 18th century artists in the city, Giovanni Domenico Ferretti.

The convent of the church has suffered several times from numerous disasters, from the fire to the flooding of 1966. Most of the artworks are therefore damaged: these include the Bestowal of the Carmelite Rule by Filippo Lippi and the Last Supper by Alessandro Allori, and remains of works from other chapels by Pietro Nelli and Gherardo Starnina.

Santo Spirito

Santo-Spirito.jpg The Basilica of Santa Maria del Santo Spirito ("St. Mary of the Holy Spirit") is located in the Oltrarno quarter of Florence, facing the piazza with the same name. The basilica is a pre-eminent examples of Renaissance architecture.

The current church was constructed over the pre-existing ruins of a 13th century Augustinian convent which was destroyed by a fire in 1471. Filippo Brunelleschi began designs for the new building as early as 1428. After his death in 1446, the works were carried on by his followers, including Antonio Manetti, Giovanni da Gaiole, and Salvi d'Andrea; the latter was also responsible for the construction of the cupola.

Unlike San Lorenzo, where Brunelleschi's ideas were thwarted, here, his ideas were carried through with much fidelity, at least in the ground plan and up to the level of the arcades. The Latin cross plan is designed as to maximize the legibility of the grid. The contrast between nave and transept that caused such difficulty at S. Lorenzo was here also avoided. The side chapels, in the form of niches all the same size (forty in all), run along the entire perimeter of the space.

Brunelleschi's facade was never built and left blank. In 1489, a columned vestibule and octagonal sacristy, designed by Simone del Pollaiolo, known as Il Cronaca, and Giuliano da Sangallo respectively, were built to the left of the building. A door was opened up in a chapel to make the connection to the church.

A Baroque baldachin with polychrome marbles was added by Giovanni Battista Caccini and Gherardo Silvani over the high altar in 1601. The church remained undecorated until the 18th century, when the walls were plastered. The inner façade is by Salvi d'Andrea, and has still the original glass window with the Pentecost designed by Pietro Perugino. The bell tower was designed by Baccio d'Agnolo.

The church has 38 side chapels which contain a some beautiful masterpieces. The most significant is the Bini-Capponi Chapel, housing the St. Monica Establishing the Rule of the Augustinian Nuns painting by Francesco Botticini. The Corbinelli chapels contain works by Andrea Sansovino, Cosimo Rosselli and Donnino and Agnolo del Mazziere. In the chapels of the transept are frescoes by Filippino Lippi.

The sacristy was designed by Giuliano da Sangallo in 1489, and has an octagonal plan. It is home to a devotional painting of St. Fiacre curing the sick by Alessandro Allori commissioned by Christine of Lorraine, Grand Duke Ferdinando I de' Medici's wife.


Sant-Ambrogio.jpg Allegedly built where Saint Ambrose would have stayed when in Florence in 393, the church dates back to 998 as a chapel of a nunnery built in honour of the saint. It was rebuilt in the 19th century but still has an original open timber roof.

The church contains numerous frescos, altarpieces, and other artwork attributed to Andrea Orcagna, Agnolo Gaddi, Niccolò Gerini, Lorenzo di Bicci, Masaccio, Filippo Lippi, Sandro Botticelli, Alesso Baldovinetti, Mino da Fiesole, Cosimo Rosselli, Fra Bartolomeo, and many other artists.

Several important artists are buried in the church, including Francesco Granacci, an Italian painter of the Renaissance and lifelong friend of Michelangelo Buonarroti, the painter and sculptor Verrocchio, the architect Cronaca, and the sculptor Mino da Fiesole.

Santa Trìnita

Santa-Trìnita.jpg Santa Trìnita (the accent on the first vowel connotes the latin origin of the name) is a Florentine church of the Vallumbrosan Order of monks founded in 1092 by a Florentine nobleman. The church is noted for the Sassetti Chapel (along with many other works), containing notable frescoes by Domenico Ghirlandaio that represent true masterpieces of 15th century art.

The current church was constructed over 11th century churches during 1258-1280. Multiple reconstructions occurred thereafter. The Mannerist façade (1593-1594) was designed by Bernardo Buontalenti. The relief over the central door of the Trinity was sculpted by Pietro Bernini and Giovanni Battista Caccini. The 17th century wooden doors were carved as a remembrance of Vallombrosan saints.

The church has approximately 20 chapels, each of which contain a significant amount of artwork. The most famous are the Sassetti and the Bartolini-Salimbeni chapels which contain frescoes by Domenico Ghirlandaio and the Quattrocento artist Lorenzo Monaco, respectively. Francesco Sassetti had been a manager of the Medici bank. The Ghirlandaio frescoes used as backgrounds contain then contemporary Florentine city views.

The Column of Justice in the Piazza Santa Trìnita, outside of where the church stands, originates from the Baths of Caracalla of ancient Rome, and was a gift to Cosimo Medici from Pope Pius IV.

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