Church of Santi Apostoli, Florence

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Church of Santi Apostoli

The Church of the Holy Apostles, Florence

La chiesa di Santi Apostoli, Piazza del Limbo, Florence

Church of Santi Apostoli Florence
Church of Santi Apostoli Florence




The Church of Santi Apostoli (Holy Apostles) is located in Piazza del Limbo in Florence and dates from the 11 C. It is one of the oldest and historically rich churches in Florence. The church of Santi Apostoli is where some of the oldest legends of Florence have their roots and it is central to popular festivals such as the “explosion of the cart”, earning it the popular nickname of “Old Cathedral of Florence”, despite never having been the Florence’s cathedral.

A plaque on the façade suggests that the church was founded as long ago as the year 800, in the presence of none other than Charlemagne and Paladin Orlando. In fact, the Church of Santi Apostoli was built in the 11 C in Florentine Romanesque style, in an area that was then outside the city walls, along the route of the ancient Via Cassia, corresponding to the current Santi Apostoli village, which from the church takes its name.

Nave of the Church of the Holy Apostles, Florence
Nave of the Church of the Holy Apostles, Florence

The façade of Santi Apostoli is in Romanesque style with a 16 C portal attributed to Benedetto da Rovezzano of Pistoia. It overlooks the small Piazza Limbo, so called because in ancient times it housed a cemetery for children who had died before being baptised, and who, as Dante also describes in the Divine Comedy, remained in an indefinite area of ​​the afterlife called limbo. The small bell tower is by Baccio d’Agnolo from the 16 C.
The plan is influenced by the early Christian style, with columns in green Prato marble and diverse capitals recovered from Roman buildings. The first two, in Corinthian style, are thought to come from the Roman thermal baths that stood nearby and date back to the 1st century BC. The wooden ceiling with a richly decorated trestle entablature dates back to 1333. The floor with a primitive mosaic was recovered during restoration and includes numerous tombstones of members of illustrious Florentine families (Acciaiuoli, Altoviti, Del Bene etc.). The apse area has a simple Romanesque structure with rough square stones left exposed. The simplicity of the interior with the rounded arches supported by the columns is said to have inspired Brunelleschi in his recovery of the classical forms which led to the Renaissance style. The side chapels date back to the 16 C and do not clash with the whole because they are rather small and sober.

At the bottom of the left aisle stands a valuable tabernacle in polychrome majolica by Andrea della Robbia, while in the first part of the left aisle there is a small niche that houses the stones, according to the tradition brought by Pazzino de ‘Pazzi from the Holy Land after the first crusade. , with which on Easter day of each year the fire is solemnly lit that ignites the dove for the traditional burst of the cart in Piazza del Duomo.

Madonna and Child enthorned among angels and saints, by Jacopo di Cione e Niccolo` Gerini, 1383
Madonna and Child enthorned among angels and saints, by Jacopo di Cione and Niccolo` Gerini, 1383

Details of the interior of the Church of Santi Apostoli

On the left aisle, starting from the entrance:

  • Holy water stoup by Benedetto da Rovezzano.
  • Sinopia of the fresco once present above the entrance portal.
  • Madonna with Child in the midst of angels by Paolo Schiavo, disciple of Masaccio (15 C).
  • Adoration of the Child in the centre, Archangel Raphael with Tobias and St. Andrew the Apostle, paintings on wood by Maso da San Friano (16 C).
  • Funeral monument of Oddone Altoviti by Benedetto da Rovezzano (1507).
  • Eucharistic tabernacle in polychrome glazed terracotta by Andrea Della Robbia. Records show a payment made on On 28 April 1512 to Andrea for a large tabernacle with angels supporting the curtain, commissioned by Giovanni di Piero Acciaiuoli. It is likely that his son Giovanni also collaborated in the work. The tabernacle rests on a predella with two angels supporting a garland of leaves in which is the chalice with the host and with the inscription “HIC EST PANIS QUI DE COELO DESCENDIT”. The aedicule is made up of Corinthian pilasters that support the entablature within which four columns in perspective and a barrel vault with rosettes enclose the door of the ciborium that depicts Christ rising from the tomb; the open circular space above could contain the third stone of the Holy Sepulcher, located in a privileged place. In the lunette is the dove of the Holy Spirit. In the upper part of the ciborium the blessing Father is represented in bas-relief. The white of the enamel, in contrast with the blue color of the background, reflecting the light, highlights the plasticity of every detail.
Giovanni della Robbia sacramental tabernacle (1500-25)
Giovanni della Robbia sacramental tabernacle (1500-25)

In the apse:

  • Tomb of Archbishop Antonio Altoviti with a niche and two volutes linked to the side doors (Giovanni Antonio Dosio), surmounted by the busts of Charlemagne and Antonio Altoviti himself, the work of Giovanni Caccini.
  • Jacopo di Cione and Niccolò Gerini, Madonna and Child enthroned between angels and saints, Adoration of the Magi (1383)

In the right aisle:

  • Tomb of Bindo Altoviti, with an allegorical monument of Charity by Bartolomeo Ammannati from 1570, on the door of the sacristy.
  • Allegory of the Conception by Giorgio Vasari (1541)
Giorgio Vasari allegory of the conception 1541
Giorgio Vasari Allegory of the Conception (1541)