Another of the works of the great Renaissance architect and engineer, Filippo Brunelleschi, construction of the basilica started in 1419 but was not completed until 1459, thirteen years after Brunelleschi’s death.
Although not originally commissioned by the Medici, the wealthy political, banking and, later, royal family of Tuscany, the Medici stepped in to finance San Lorenzo in 1442, when construction faltered due to lack of funding.
Thereafter, San Lorenzo became, de facto, the church of the Medici family and is the burial place of all of its principal members who died from the 1460s until the 1720s.
Standing in a nearly deserted six-hundred-year-old church early on a cold, winter morning was a nerve-tingling experience: I felt not only the weight Brunelleschi’s imposing dome, high overhead, but also the weight of history pressing down on me as I stood there.
When I entered the basilica, at 7.45am, there were just two worshippers inside, both young men; each kneeling in silent prayer at a separate side altar.
Although almost deserted, the centre of the church was cordoned off by waist-high wooden barriers. I had observed the same restrictions in other Italian churches, making them difficult to access. And, of course, there were the ubiquitous “No Photography” signs.
As there was almost no-one around, I eased one of the barriers aside and slipped out into the centre of the marble floor, the vantage point that I knew I would have to attain to get the shot I wanted: straight down the aisle towards the massive wooden doors at the back of the church.
No sooner had I erected my tripod, set my camera to auto-bracket five exposures and hit the button than, with depressing predictability, an elderly gentleman emerged from the deep shadows at the side of the church and came scurrying towards me.
Introducing himself as the sacristan of the basilica, he left me in no doubt, in voluble Italian, that the spot where I was standing was off-limits and that he did not appreciate my illicitly photographing his beautiful church.
But he was a kind enough man, just doing his job. Seeing the obvious disappointment in my face, he had the decency to indicate, with a wave of his hand, that he would allow me to complete the one photograph that I had already begun. It is the lead image.
Once ejected from the great church, I was escorted by the sacristan to the cloistered courtyard, which provided ample consolation for my earlier disappointment.
Built in a square, with a cloistered walkway running around its perimeter, the centerpiece of the courtyard was an elegant tree. Narrow gravel pathways, lined by low box hedges, radiated out towards the four corners of the square.
In spite of the muted, early-morning winter light, I photographed the tree, framed by the ancient walls of the basilica, in infrared.
Sometimes, getting kicked out of a church isn’t such a bad thing after all.
(click on an image to enlarge it)