CONVENTO SANTO SPIRITO (1)
Next door to the church is the large former Augustinian monastery that was taken over by the military in the nineteenth century, and is in the use of the Italian Army today.
(Like almost all ancient churches and monasteries in Italy, this church and convento were confiscated by the Italian government in the nineteenth century, and remain government property today.)
In the vicinity of Florence, Augustinian hermits first settled a mile (1.50 kilometres) outside of the city. In 1250 they then acquired a plot of land in the thinly-populated Oltranto, the area on the left bank of the River Arno.
The area became more accessible to the main part of Florence across the Arno when the Ponte (Bridge) Santa Trinita was built in 1252. The Augustinians built a church and priory (convento) in that same year, originally dedicated to Mary, All Saints and the Holy Spirit but now called Santo Spirito (Holy Spirit).
The church itself was already paved by 1297 but communal funding can be documented from 1292 to 1301, indicating that the construction process was still occuring. Indeed, houses were pourchased in 1301 to produce a public square in front of the church - the Piazza Santo Spirito, which still exists.
By 1350 the Convento Santo Spirito was also a very substantial building, including the large first cloister.
The First Cloister (clausura, patio) of the monastery – see photo at right – was executed in the style of the seventh century, and has frescoes of that same period. In the refectory (dining hall) there was a Crucifixion and Last Supper painted by Andrea Orcagna and his workshop in the 1360s.
The second inner cloister (clausura, patio) of the monastery was designed by Bartolomeo Ammannati (1511 – 1592), who is best known for the bridge, Ponte della Trinità (not the Ponte Vecchio), that still stands across the Arno.
In central Florence Ammannati was responsible for an addition to the Pitti Palace and the fountain in the Piazza della Signora.
This second cloister was frescoed by Bernardino Poccetti (1542-1612). It is completely in military possession, and there is no vantage point from which it can be seen by the public.
In Ammannati and Poccetti, the Order of Saint Augustine engaged two of the best artists in Florence at that time.
The present small Augustinian community is restricted to a section near the church that constitutes about a tenth of the monastery, and have no access to the remainder of the building.
In the later years of the fourteenth century, the Augustinians at Santo Spirito became the meeting place of humanists who made Florence the intellectual capital of Italy.
One of the Augustinians in the community, Luigi Marsigli O.S.A. (1342 – 1394), had taught theology in the premier Augustinian studium generale (international house of study) in Paris.
Marsigli maintained a correspondence with Francesco Petrarch (1304 - 1374) when as an old man in 1369 the poet retired to the little Augustinian community at Arqua in the Euganean hills.
There Petrarch consoled in old age his friend and early Italian novelist, Giovanni Boccaccio (1313 - 1375).
Repenting much of what he had written, Boccaccio bequeathed his library of costly manuscripts to the Augustinians at Santo Spirito.
(Continued on the next page.)