Thursday, July 31

Great Churches of the World: Santa Maria Novella, Florence

Begun in 1278, completed a hundred years later, and modified in the counter-Reformation, Santa Maria Novella is a masterpiece of Florentine Gothic, the artistic style most famously employed at the city's Duomo. One of two major Dominican churches in Florence, the other being the now-deconsecrated San Marco, Santa Maria Novella is a gem, containing dozens of paintings from the great Masters of Florence. The nave, lined with side altars, gives way to the stunning high altar, pictured above. Lit by stain glass, this high altar conceals the impressive Dominican choir, and the side chapels are similarly spectacular. Some of the greatest artistic treasure in this complex, however, can be found in the Dominican convent (which is not easy to access - unlike Santa Sabina, I was unable to see this one). The convent contains, among other works, Buoniauto's The Church Militant and the Church Triumphant and the more famous Triumph of the Catholic Doctrine. Basically, this church is well worth visiting for anyone planning to spend time in Florence. For the Dominican spirits among us, it has the advantages over San Marco of still being consecrated and of better having hours, despite its lack of San Marco's famous Fra Angelico paintings. The church is a little bit "off the beaten path," though it is near the train station (many tourists skip it on the way to the cathedral and museums in the center of town); that said, it fronts its own square and is easy enough to find. Santa Maria Novella was my favorite of the 65 churches I visited in Italy on tour with the Liturgical Choir, and so inspired me that I rank it alongside Notre Dame de Montreal as my favorite, period.

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