by Melinda Gallo

Convento e chiesa di Santa Maria Maddalena de' Pazzi

After going to the punto prelievi/analisi (samples/analysis laboratory) in Borgo Pinti this morning, I passed by the convento e chiesa di Santa Maria Maddalena de' Pazzi. I had walked by it yesterday and was intrigued by the peaceful courtyard with the chiesa (church) tucked away inside. Because one of the front doors was open today, I decided to go take a quick peek.

Living in Florence :: Convento e chiesa di Santa Maria Maddalena de' Pazzi

I walked through the courtyard and noticed a few open windows. I wondered if any monache (nuns) were still living in the convento (convent). I often see monache walking around Borgo Pinti and Piazza San Marco. I always wonder where they're going and examine them to see if I can figure it out. Sometimes, I'm disappointed because often they're just shopping.

I knew nothing about this chiesa, so I read the signs posted outside the door and then entered. The unlit and cool chiesa was much larger than I had expected. Wooden pews were lined up on each side of the aisle and on the altar under a frescoed cappella (dome) in the back. As I walked down the aisle, I admired the huge fresco painted on the ceiling.

I couldn't hear anything inside except for the occasional car passing by in Borgo Pinti. I sat in the front pew to study the cappella with its frescoed ceiling and windows around the inside.

I heard a voice coming from the partially opened door where it said, "Al Perugino." (To the Perugino.) I had read on the sign outside that Perugino was an Umbrian artist who painted the "Crocefissione." From the picture, it looked very beautiful, but I didn't know for sure if I wanted to see it.

I walked outside to the front of the chiesa, looked at the sign about the "Perugino" and then returned inside. I peeked behind the door where I heard voices and saw an elderly sacerdote (priest). I asked him if I could visit the "Perugino" and he said, "Certo, non mica mio." (Of course, it's not mine.) I was supposed to pay him 1 Euro for the cost of the lights, but instead I gave him 2.

He told me to sit down next to him and he explained the story behind the chiesa and the "Perugino." He showed me a cartolina (postcard), which he later gave to me, and indicated that all the people in the affresco (fresco) are standing behind Cristo (Christ). He told me his interpretation that if we stand in front of Cristo now, one day we too will be standing behind him.

After telling me a few other stories about the chiesa, I thanked him. He told me where to go to visit the "Perugino" and that he'd turn on the lights for me.

I followed his instructions and went down the steps past the cripta (crypt) and walked through the halls under the church. When I walked back up the stairs and into the room where the "Perugino" is located, I was struck by the sheer beauty of the affresco. The post card that I was still holding in my hand didn't do it justice. I sat down in front of the Madonna as the sacerdote instructed and admired the affresco.

After many minutes of just reflecting the affresco from afar (about 15 feet), I decided I should take a closer look. I walked up a little closer, but still wanted to keep at least 6 feet away. I knew there were cameras in the room to watch the visitors, but I didn't want to alarm the sacerdote. The face of the Madonna seemed the clearest of them all. I was impressed with the details in her face and couldn't keep my eyes off of her. I wanted to take a picture, but I felt that it might not be allowed, so I didn't.

I walked past the cripta and back to where the sacerdote was sitting. When I arrived in the room, I looked at the other items he had for sale and bought a post card. He told me to make sure I see the Madonna col bambino that was carved out of wood inside the chiesa.

I left the church feeling as if I had just visited a different world. Listening to the sacerdote with his thick Florentine accent tell me about the chiesa and how people used to come every day to see the "Perugino", I realized that this has been his world for many, many years. And, this chiesa and all that it contains is his life.

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