‘Centre of the world’ closes for want of new monks


‘Centre of the world’ closes for want of new monks

The closure of the historic Florence monastery ‘is cultural and societal suicide’

Nick Squires

A 600-year-old monastery in Florence described as “the centre of the world” is to close as the number of resident friars dwindles to just four.
The Convent of San Marco, a jewel in the crown of the Dominican Order and a cradle of the Renaissance, boasts priceless paintings and a rich history that reaches back to the Medicis.
But with so few monks now calling it home, the monastery is to be closed down, highlighting the Catholic Church’s inability to recruit enough priests and monks in an age of rising secularism and resistance to its celibacy requirement.
The shortage of priests and friars is particularly acute in Europe and North America.
“The closure of a historic place like this is an act of cultural and societal suicide,” said Bash D’Abramo, the head of Beato Angelico for the Renaissance, a cultural association that is linked to the monastery. “It’s shameful. The history of the convent goes back to the Medici family. It’s part of the identity of Florence.”
The historic monastery has been “suppressed”, or closed, by the local head of the Dominicans, with the remaining brothers due to be transferred to another Dominican establishment in Florence, the convent of Santa Maria Novella.
The cost of maintaining the monastery was no longer sustainable, said Aldo Tarquini, the provincial head of the Dominican Order.
Campaigners are still fighting to reverse the decision to close the monastery, pointing out it was once home to the celebrated 15th-century painter-monk Fra Angelico.
One of the cells was occupied by Girolamo Savonarola, the fire-and-brimstone preacher who railed against the corruption of the church, the tyranny of government and the influence of humanism in the 15th century.
After the Medici family were overthrown, he became Florence’s sole ruler and ordered the bonfire of the vanities, when Florentines threw books, mirrors, cosmetics, playing cards and even musical instruments into the flames in the city’s Piazza della Signoria in 1497.
But the city eventually turned on the religious fundamentalist, and he was burned at the stake, in the same spot, a year later.
The monastery was also home to a celebrated mayor of Florence, Giorgio la Pira, who lived there from 1934 until his death in 1977.
“Florence is the centre of the world. And San Marco is the centre of Florence,” he once said.
Campaigners have staged protests in Florence, to no avail. They are particularly incensed by rumours – denied by the authorities – that the convent could be turned into a luxury hotel.
Last week they presented a petition bearing more than 18,000 signatures to Pope Francis during his weekly audience in St Peter’s Square in Rome. A Vatican spokesperson said the Pope was not minded to intervene.
“It’s a question for the Dominican Order,” he said.
– © The Daily Telegraph

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