When I arrived in Florence to spend a month helping at St. Mark’s, I was excited to visit the many beautiful churches. In this series of blog posts, I’m going to explore some less-well-known corners of some less-well-known churches.
One of the first churches I found myself in was the Chiesa dei Santi Michele e Gaetano, on the Piazza degli Antinori.
The typically baroque architecture of the church itself is impressive, but I was particularly drawn to the Capella Franceschi, on the left hand side.
This wasn’t particularly because of the striking painting of the Martyrdom of St Lawrence by Pietro da Cortona, or the frescoed vault showing St Lawrence entering heaven, beautiful though these are.
Rather, it was because, beneath the altar, are the relics of a saint.
This in itself is not surprising, since all consecrated altars have their relics, often embedded in a marble altar stone.
This one, however, does not have a small piece of bone or hair, but an entire skeleton. It also has a death-mask and lace tunic.
What fascinated me about this wasn’t just that it was there. Whole bodies are also not unusual in Italian churches, whether visible or not. The strange thing was the lack of information. A faded inscription on the glass-fronted sarcophagus reads ‘S. Restitvte Martyris,’ and that’s it.
A bit of Googling led to more information about St. Restitutus. His name appears in the Roman Martyrology on May 29th, which is noted to be his birthday.
More interestingly, his body is also claimed by San Francesco a Ripa in Rome. This, in addition to the fact that the relics in San Gaetano appear to be dressed like a woman, raises more questions.
The only thing to be done is to visit the church when some of the clergy are around, find someone who speaks English, and ask.
I’ll report back with my findings when I have them!
Chris Dingwall-Jones is an ordinand at St Stephen’s House, Oxford. He is on placement at St. Mark’s during August.