Coming down from the Convent of San Francesco to reach Piazza Bonaparte, there is a junction between via Angiolo del Bravo and via Pietro Rondoni: on the central building, in addition to the beautiful crucifix by the artist Dilvo Lotti, there is also a large piece of white marble. Have you ever wondered what it is? It’s the now destroyed statue of Grand Duchess Maria Maddalena of Austria that was once in the current Piazza della Repubblica (today known as Piazza del Seminario). But why was there a statue dedicated to her in San Miniato?
The Vicariate of San Miniato
Maria Maddalena of Austria married the Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo II De’Medici and, following the premature death of her husband, she also inherited the government of the Vicariate of San Miniato. In 1622 she visited the city with his children, and lived here for two days in Palazzo Grifoni, where she worked to ensure that the town acquired the title of Diocese. Maria Maddalena succeeded where many had failed: on December 5 1622, Pope Gregory XV attributed the much desired nomination of Diocese to San Miniato! He raised it to the rank of City (before this event it had the title of “Castle of San Miniato“), he consecrated the ancient collegiate church of Santa Maria Assunta and San Genesio to Cathedral and built the Bishop’s seat there. In May 1624 the first bishop Monsignor Francesco Nori was appointed.
The Samminiatesi, to honor and thank the Grand Duchess, decided to erect (thanks to the artist Antonio Susini) a marble statue in Piazza della Cittadella (today Piazza della Repubblica / Piazza del Seminario).
Napoleon in Italy
When Napoleon arrived in Florence there was the exile of Grand Duke Ferdinand III and soldiers were ordered to destroy every coat of arms, symbol and effigy of the Medici and Habsburg-Lorraine family. This destructive fury did not even spare the statue of Maria Maddalena of Austria in San Miniato, which was tied with a rope, thrown heavily to the ground and destroyed by French soldiers. It was 1799. The remains were abandoned in a ditch in the countryside of San Miniato and were found after the Second World War.
The white marble of Maria Maddalena of Austria
To date, it’s still possible to admire this large piece of marble that rests in the shadow of the houses of San Miniato. If you stop to observe it, you can still see the draperies of what was once the dress of the Grand Duchess Maria Maddalena of Austria and maybe try to imagine how it could have been: historical tales tell us that the great figure of the Duchess was about two meters tall and in his right hand she held a scepter. The left hand instead rested on the head of a lion (symbol of San Miniato) who supported the Medici family’s coat of arms with one paw.