by Melinda Gallo

Remembering the beginning

Today after I had a caffè (coffee) with a new friend, I was walking downtown about to run a few errands, and I stopped in my tracks when I found myself standing next to Orsanmichele chiesa (church). I remember the first time I stumbled upon the chiesa the first weekend after I arrived in Florence. While I sat inside admiring the interior, I realized that I was finally home. In that instant I decided that I would live in Florence.

Living in Florence :: Remembering the beginning

In 1997, I walked around the tall square building and peeked my head inside. I didn't know that Orsanmichele was a chiesa at first glance because it didn't have any of the typical signs like a cross at the top or a large empty space leading up to the door. I was stunned by the dark, but rich interior and sat down immediately. The sense that I was home came over me like a heavy blanket. I wasn't looking for a place to call home, and I didn't know that I wasn't already there until I found myself on a wooden bench.

When I got to the front of the chiesa, I saw a custode (keeper/guardian) standing outside. I peered over at the museo (museum) entrance door that was open. I asked him if the museo upstairs was open, but he said that it was closed and is rarely open. I told him that I had visited it last year and he said, "Sei stata molto fortunata. You were very lucky."

We stood outside on the step leading to the door and talked about the museo upstairs. After we talked about the museo, I started telling him about how special the chiesa is to me and anytime I get a chance, I come by for a visit.

I left the custode outside and walked inside toward the tabernacolo (tabernacle) where a painting of the Madonna with child is located. I lit a couple of candles and sat down in the first row of wooden benches. I admired the chiesa while a few people were walking around and looking at the large presepe di Natale (Nativity scene) that was still on display.

I looked up at the ceiling of the loggia and peered at the gold stars above. I took in a deep breath and closed my eyes. That same sense of my being home in Florence came over me once again.

I walked back outside to say goodbye to the custode, and then continued to walk around the chiesa to take a good look at it. I had always noticed the statues in their large niches, but I never saw the painted porcelain giglio (lily), which is the stemma (coat of arms) of Florence, on the face of the chiesa on via Calzaiuoli.

I'm fortunate enough to walk past the chiesa many times a week and it was the first time I noticed the giglio. No matter how at home I feel in Florence, I'm still discovering treasures all the time when I take the time to look.

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