Where’s the body?

We could have sworn Dante was buried in Florence because we saw the tombs of Michelangelo, Rossini, Machiavelli, and Galileo when we visited the Basilica of Santa Croce.

And yes, we also saw what we thought was the tomb of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), poet and author of “The Divine Comedy” in the same Basilica.

After our Florence visit, we took a train to Ravenna, Italy.  Our new tourist map noted the “Tomba Dante Alighieri”.  What?  Now we were confused.

So, where is the body?  Florence or Ravenna?

We turned to Google to settle the matter, and it was quite an amazing story.  Dante loved his hometown of Florence and became involved in politics. Unfortunately, he chose to support the losing side and made matters further worse for himself by proposing support for secular rule (a universal monarchy under the Holy Roman Emperor) rather than religious rule (under the Pope).  He was sentenced to death and exiled from Florence.  He left Florence.  What choice did he have?  He hoped Florence would relent and always expected to return.

His later years were spent in Ravenna and when he died there, he was buried at the Church of San Pier Maggiore (now called the Basilica of San Francesco) in Ravenna.

In death, Florence had a change of heart and wanted its native son’s body to be returned.  Ravenna declined and Dante was buried in Ravenna.

Two hundred years later, the pope ordered Dante’s remains to be returned to Florence.  Florence sent a delegation to get the body, but the Franciscan friars in Ravenna stole his remains and hid the body in a false wall.

Over the years it seemed the secret of where the body was located may have been forgotten.

Over 500 years after Dante’s death –  in 1865  – renovations were carried out and Dante’s bones were rediscovered.  They were placed in the small Ravenna tomb built in 1780.  Don’t think the story ends here.

In March 1944 Dante’s remains were moved yet again into the garden behind his tomb for safekeeping during the world war.  An ivy-covered mound marks where his remains were buried to protect them.  In December 1945 Dante’s remains were again moved back into the tomb.

Florence built its tomb for Dante in the Basilica of Santa Croce in 1829, but Dante’s remains never left Ravenna.  Florence’s tomb had become a cenotaph.  In 2008 Florence officially apologized for its exile of Dante.

The difference between the grand sculptural cenotaph in Florence at Santa Croce and the simple, understated tomb in Ravenna is stark.

A sign on the street by the tomb came as a surprise.  We were in a zone of silence.



May 2018

About simpletravelourway

Beth and Joe enjoy simple travel.
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13 Responses to Where’s the body?

  1. Can you believe it took them until 2008 to apologize? Don’t worry, I don’t think the Ravenese will return the body!

  2. Loved this fascinating story, Beth which reminded me of a similar situation we ran into regarding the remains of Christopher Columbus in The Dominican Republic, aka Hispaniola. Although Columbus died in Spain, his wish was to be buried in Hispaniola next to his son Diego and his body was reinterred at the cathedral in Santa Domingo. When Spain ceded Hispaniola to France at the end of the 18th century, his remains were sent to Havanna and a hundred years later, returned to Spain when the Spanish-American war broke out. However, Santa Domingo claims the wrong body was removed and maintains a monument where he is buried which draws thousands of tourists (like us) each year. The Cathedral in Seville, Spain (also a huge draw for us tourists) asserts that his body is there in a huge, heavily gilded sarcophagus. The DR refused to have their Columbus remains tested but DNA tests on the Spain remains show a close match to his brother. And then there’s speculation that he may have been divided and may indeed be in both places… 🙂 Anita

  3. Better a late apology than none, even if it did not comfort Dante himself.

  4. Beth – close enough to one thousand years later and the controversy lingers…amazing. I am impressed and disgruntled at the same time 🙂 But the story is a great one!

  5. Goodness, the poor man wouldn’t know if he was coming or going.

  6. What a great story! Many thanx…. Email from me coming soon re: reunion

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