THE COLUMN OF SAINT ZANOBI
In the Piazza San Giovanni (“St. John’s Square”) in Florence, more or less in front of the North Door of the Baptistery, stands a column with a cross on top: this small monument is connected to a Florentine story about one of its most important citizen: a saint, who was the first bishop of the city, Saint Zanobi. He lived around the 4th-5th century, much loved by the people, and when he died, he was buried in what became the first cathedral of Florence, the church of San Lorenzo.
After a few years the title of “cathedral” was transferred to the nearby (but this time within the city walls) church of Santa Reparata (future Santa Maria del Fiore), and thus the remains of the first bishop had to be transferred from one church to the other. From San Lorenzo, thus, the procession took the street called “Borgo San Lorenzo” and entered St. John’s Square. Here there were some elms that were dry at that time of the year: it was January 26th, close to the so-called “giorni della merla” (lit. “the days of the female blackbird”, which are the last three days of January), the coldest days of the year.
Tradition tells that, passing near one of these trees, the coffin, carried on the men’s shoulders, touched one of them, and suddenly, as if by magic, this bloomed. This episode was interpreted by everyone as a miracle of Saint Zanobi, attracting thus people from every corner of the city into the square, trying to grab at least a twig of the miraculous tree.
Nothing survived of the elm, eventually; the city of Florence, however, wanted to remember this important event, and at the same time celebrate the memory of the saint, and so a columns was raised in the exact spot where the elm once stood: this column is today called “The column of Saint Zanobi”. The original one, dating back to 430 ca., was destroyed by the devastating flood of 1333; the column we can see today dates from the 14th century, with a marble cross on top of it, surrounded by a wrought-iron garland, while a small bronze tree is placed in the middle of the trunk.
Today, every January 26th , supposedly the day of the miracle, Florence celebrates its saint placing a garland of flowers at the base of the column.