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putting Savonarola to death, not because he had been deceived or had deceived others by his visions, but because he was good and great, too good and great for the age in which he lived and the people for whom he had laboured. Therefore they stood hushed and oppressed; and if there were any who exulted in the fall of the Preacher who had so unsparingly denounced their sins, they did not dare to give their exultation a voice. Many were present, too, who still retained their faith in their Master, and were silent with their sorrow, and wept, and prayed inly. Only close about the heap of fuel were heard occasional cries and yells; the coarse insults of the desperate criminals whom the Signory had let loose from their prisons in order to disturb the last moments of the condemned.
A gloom seemed to overspread the Piazza like a cloud of darkness when Savonarola was led forth. At the foot of the stairs he was met by one of the Dominican friars of Santa Maria Novella, who had orders to despoil him and his companions of their habits, leaving them only their woollen under-tunics, with their feet bare, and their hands tied. Savonarola was deeply affected by this new insult, but he quickly recovered himself, and as the monk's frock was removed, exclaimed :—" O sacred dress, how much I longed to wear thee! By the grace of God thou wast granted to me; and I have preserved thee unstained to this day. Nor do I now abandon thee, thou art taken from me."1
The three Frati then passed on to the first Tribunal, where they were re-vested in the religious habits; and the Bishop, in deep distress, proceeded with the ceremony of degradation, stripping his former master of the black mantle, the white scapulary, and the long white tunic. In his agitation, stammering out the accustomed formula:— "Separo te ab ecclesia militante," (I separate thee from the Church Militant), he added—" atque triumphante." "Militante," replied Savonarola, calmly, "yes; but not triumphante / That does not belong to you."2 These words were uttered in tones which thrilled the hearts of all who heard, so that they were ever afterwards remembered.
1 Burlamacchi, p. 160.
'"Della militante si, ma della trionfante no, questo a voi non appartiene."—Burlamacchi.
Being thus degraded and unfrocked, the victims of hatred and injustice were formally handed over to the secular arm, after they had been declared schismatics and heretics by the Papal Commissioners. Romolino then absolved them from all their sins (bitterest of all the ironies of that terrible tragical scene !) and asked them if they accepted his absolution: they intimated their assent by a simple inclination of the head. Finally, they reached the tribunal of the Eight, who, according to custom, put their sentence to the vote. It was passed unanimously, and then read aloud. These wearisome mockeries at an end, Savonarola and his companions mounted the scaffold, and with firm slow step proceeded to the deathplace at the further extremity, while the most abandoned of the furious rabble around were allowed to approach and hurl at them the foulest insults. Expressions of admiration and sympathy, however, were not wholly wanting. To a person who spoke a few words of comfort, Savonarola gently replied: —" In the last hour God alone can comfort His creatures!" To a priest named Nerotto, who asked him :—" With what mind do you endure this martyrdom?" he answered:— "Should I not die willingly when the Lord has suffered as much for me?"
His constancy, his unshaken courage, his faith sustained and inspired his two disciples. In this awful moment Fra Salvestro recovered his composure, and showed himself worthy of his master, worthy of the cause in which he died. Fra Domenico was so inspired with a serene exultation that it was recorded of him how he seemed like one going to a dance and not to death (Ch'a danza e non a morte andasso). He would fain have raised the triumphal chant of the Te Deum, as with bare feet and pinioned hands he passed on to the gibbet; but at Savonarola's request he desisted, saying, "Accompany me then, in an undertone," and so they recited the entire hymn. He afterwards said :—" Remember that the prophecies of Savonarola must all be fulfilled, and that we die innocent."
Fra Salvestro was the first to suffer. As the fatal rope was fastened, he exclaimed :—" Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit!" Domenico ascended the ladder with a radiant countenance, and a look of ecstasy in his eyes. Last came the turn of Savonarola, who was so absorbed in his anticipations of the Life Beatific that fast dawned upon his soul, that he seemed insensible to the things of earth. But on gaining the upper part of the ladder, he paused a moment, to survey with a piercing glance the crowd below and around,—that people of Florence who had once hung on his lips with such breathless adoration. Silently he submitted his neck to the hangman.
A shudder of horror shot, like an electric stroke, through all the multitude. Only one voice was heard to say :—" Prophet, now is the time to work a miracle!"
To ingratiate himself with the multitude, the executioner was guilty of ribald outrage on the Martyr's body even before it ceased to move, so that the magistrates judged it needful to send him a severe reprimand. He then displayed an unusual activity in the hope that the flames would reach Savonarola before life was quite extinct; the chain, however, slipped from his hand, and before he could recover it, his victim had breathed his last breath. A gust of wind for some time diverted the blaze from the three bodies; and those of the Piagnoni who were present raised the cry of "A miracle! a miracle!" But ultimately the fire did its work. When it caught the rope that pinioned the arms of Savonarola, the heat caused a movement of the wrists; so that, to the eyes of the faithful, he seemed to raise his right hand in the act of blessing the misguided creatures who had hunted him to his death.
The Signory ordered that the ashes should be collected, and thrown from the Ponto Vecchio into the Arno. But all their care could not prevent enthusiastic disciples from possessing themselves of relics of the great man who had so nobly and self-denyingly striven to promote the cause of light and love and freedom, and to recall the Church to the pure faith of its Divine Founder.
It was at ten o'clock in the morning of the 23rd of May, 1498, that Savonarola consummated his martyrdom. He was then in the 45th year of his age.1
1 Nardi, "Istorie di Firenze," bk. ii.; Guicciardini, "Storia Fiorentina," c. xvii. ; Villari, "Vita di Savonarola," lib. iv. c. II.