In 1438 the painter and monk Fra Angelico imagined the execution of saints in the manner that criminals were in his day. That is, just outside of walls of Florence. With great fanfare the condemned were marched through the city, then out the gates, where they met their deaths.
In this picture the swordsman is tasked with the job. Dante described the execution of counterfeiters, who were lowered head first into holes. Executioners filled the holes with sand, leaving the spectacle of exposed legs and feet flaying. Hanging ended the life of the Bonfire of Vanities preacher, Girolamo Savonarola. That was in 1498, just before his public burning in the Piazza della Signoria, and subsequent scattering of the firebrand monk’s ashes in the Arno River.
Tuscany was absorbed in the unified Italy in 1861, which at the time had the death penalty. But then, in 1889, Italians banned capital punishment up and down the boot. Not surprisingly, the fascists practiced capital punishment during their reign from 1926-1947. In the end, Benito Mussolini would be one of the executed, not surprisingly.
Today Florentines and people of other Tuscan cities and towns are celebrating Festa della Toscana. On this day in 1786 the Duchy of Tuscany became the world’s first country to remove death penalty from their laws. In Florence they are proud of that. Tuscan’s don’t get the day off if the holiday falls on a workday, but every year they observe the day in one form of celebrating or another.
To my friends in Florence, a heartfelt Happy Festa della Toscana.