Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498) was a Dominican priest and, briefly, ruler of Florence. He is known for strict religious reformation, anti -Renaissance preaching, book-burning and destruction of art.
After the overthrow of the Medici in 1494, Savonarola was the sole leader of Florence, setting up a republic. The republic of Florence was to be a Christian commonwealth, of which God was the sole sovereign, and His Gospel the law: the most stringent enactments were made for the repression of vice and frivolity. Gambling was prohibited and the vanities of dress were restrained by sumptuary laws. Even the women flocked to the public square to fling down their costliest ornaments and Savonarola's followers made huge "bonfires of the vanities."
Meanwhile, his rigor and claim to the gift of prophecy led to his being cited in 1495 to answer a charge of heresy at Rome and on his failing to appear he was forbidden to preach. Savonarola disregarded the order, but his difficulties at home increased. The new system proved impracticable and although the conspiracy for the recall of the Medici failed, and five of the conspirators were executed, yet this very rigor hastened the reaction.
In 1497 came a sentence of excommunication from Rome; and thus precluded from administering the sacred offices, Savonarola zealously tended the sick monks during the plague. A second "bonfire of the vanities" in 1498 led to riots; and at the new elections the Medici party came into power. Savonarola was again ordered to desist from preaching, and was fiercely denounced by a Franciscan preacher. Dominicans and Franciscans appealed to the interposition of divine providence by the ordeal of fire. But when the trial was to have come off (April 1498) difficulties and debates arose, destroying Savonarola's prestige and producing a complete revulsion of public feeling.
He was brought to trial for falsely claiming to have seen visions, and uttered prophecies, for religious error, and for sedition. Under torture he made avowals which he afterwards withdrew. He was declared guilty and the sentence was confirmed by Rome. On May 23, 1498,Savonarola was hanged and burned, still professing his adherence to the Church.