as a temple by the Romans in honour of Mars, for their victory over the Fiesolans, and that Mars was the patron of the Florentines as long as paganism lasted. Round the equestrian statue that was supposed to have once stood in the midst of this temple, numberless legends have gathered. Dante refers to it again and again. In Santa Maria Novella you shall see how a great painter of the early Renaissance, Filippino Lippi, conceived of his city's first patron. When Florence changed him for the Baptist, and the people of Mars became the sheepfold of St John, this statue was removed from the temple and set upon a tower by the side of the Arno:–
"The Florentines took up their idol which they called the God Mars, and set him upon a high tower near the river Arno; and they would not break or shatter it, seeing that in their ancient records they found that the said idol of Mars had been consecrated under the ascendency of such a planet, that if it should be broken or put in a dishonourable place, the city would suffer danger and damage and great mutation. And although the Florentines had newly become Christians, they still retained many customs of paganism, and retained them for a long time; and they greatly feared their ancient idol of Mars; so little perfect were they as yet in the Holy Faith."
This tower is said to have been destroyed like the rest of Florence by the Goths, the statue falling into the Arno, where it lurked in hiding all the time that the city lay in ruins. On the legendary rebuilding of Florence by Charlemagne, the statue, too–or rather the mutilated fragment that remained–was restored to light and honour. Thus Villani:–
"It is said that the ancients held the opinion that there was no power to rebuild the city, if that marble image, consecrated by necromancy to Mars by the first Pagan builders, was not first found again and drawn out of the Arno, in which it had been from the destruction of Florence down to that time. And, when found, they set it upon a pillar on the bank of the said river, where is now the head of the Ponte Vecchio. This we neither affirm nor believe, inasmuch as it appeareth to us to be the opinion of augurers and pagans, and not reasonable, but great folly, to hold that a statue so made could work thus; but commonly it was said by the ancients that, if it were changed, our city would needs suffer great mutation."
Thus it became quella pietra scema che guarda il ponte, in Dantesque phrase; and we shall see what terrible sacrifice its clients unconsciously paid to it. Here it remained, much honoured by the Florentines; street boys were solemnly warned of the fearful judgments that fell on all who dared to throw mud or stones at it; until at last, in 1333, a great flood carried away bridge and statue alike, and it was seen no more. It has recently been suggested that the statue was, in reality, an equestrian monument in honour of some barbaric king, belonging to the fifth or sixth century.
Florence, however, seems to have been–in spite of Villani's describing it as the Chamber of the Empire and the like–a place of very slight importance under the Empire. Tacitus mentions that a deputation was sent from Florentia to Tiberius to prevent the Chiana being turned into the Arno. Christianity is said to have been first introduced in the days of Nero; the Decian persecution raged here as elsewhere, and the soil was hallowed with the blood of the martyr, Miniatus. Christian worship is said to have been first offered up on the hill where a stately eleventh century Basilica now bears his name. When the greater peace of the Church was established under Constantine, a church dedicated to the Baptist on the site of the Martian temple and a basilica outside the walls, where now stands San Lorenzo, were among the earliest churches in Tuscany.
In the year 405, the Goth leader Rhadagaisus, omnium antiquorum praesentiumque hostium longe immanissimus, as Orosius calls him, suddenly inundated Italy with more than 200,000 Goths, vowing to sacrifice all the blood of the Romans to his gods. In their terror the Romans seemed about to return to their old paganism, since Christ had failed to protect them. Fervent tota urbe blasphemiae, writes Orosius. They advanced towards Rome through the Tuscan Apennines, and are said to have besieged Florence, though there is no hint of this in Orosius. On the approach of Stilicho, at the head of thirty legions with a large force of barbarian auxiliaries, Rhadagaisus and his hordes–miraculously struck helpless with terror, as Orosius implies–let themselves be hemmed in in the mountains behind Fiesole, and all perished, by famine and exhaustion rather than by the sword. Villani ascribes the salvation of Florence to the prayers of its bishop, Zenobius, and adds that as this victory of "the Romans and Florentines" took place on the feast of the virgin martyr Reparata, her name was given to the church afterwards to become the Cathedral of Florence.
Zenobius, now a somewhat misty figure, is the first great Florentine of history, and an impressive personage in Florentine art. We dimly discern in him an ideal bishop and father of his people; a man of great austerity and boundless charity, almost an earlier Antoninus. Perhaps the fact that some of the intervening Florentine bishops were anything but edifying, has made these two–almost at the beginning and end of the Middle Ages–stand forth in a somewhat ideal light. He appears to have lived a monastic life outside the walls in a small church on the site of the present San Lorenzo, with two young ecclesiastics, trained by him and St Ambrose, Eugenius and Crescentius. They died before him and are commonly united with him by the painters. Here he was frequently visited by St Ambrose–here he dispensed his charities and worked his miracles (according to the legend, he had a special gift of raising children to life)–here at length he died in the odour of sanctity, a.d. 424. The beautiful legend of his translation should be familiar to every student of Italian painting. I give it in the words of a monkish writer of the fourteenth century:–
"About five years after he had been buried, there was made bishop one named Andrew, and this holy bishop summoned a great chapter of bishops and clerics, and said in the chapter that it was meet to bear the body of St Zenobius to the Cathedral Church of San Salvatore; and so it was ordained. Wherefore, on the 26th of January, he caused him to be unburied and borne to the Church of San Salvatore by four bishops; and these bishops bearing the body of St Zenobius were so pressed upon by the people that they fell near an elm, the which was close unto the Church of St John the Baptist; and when they fell, the case where the body of St Zenobius lay was broken, so that the body touched the elm, and gradually, as the elm was touched, it brought forth flowers and leaves, and lasted all that year with the flowers and leaves. The people, seeing the miracle, broke up all the elm, and with devotion carried the branches away. And the Florentines, beholding what was done, made a column of marble with a cross where the elm had been, so that the miracle should ever be remembered by the people."
Like the statue of Mars, this column was destroyed by the flood of 1333, and the one now standing to the north of the Baptistery was set up after that year. It was at one time the custom for the clergy on the feast of the translation to go in procession and fasten a green bough to this column. Zenobius now stands with St Reparata on the cathedral façade. Domenico Ghirlandaio painted him, together with his pupils Eugenius and Crescentius, in the Sala dei Gigli of the Palazzo della Signoria; an unknown follower of Orcagna had painted a similar picture for a pillar in the Duomo. Ghiberti cast his