Girolamo expanded his movement of reform to include the prohibition of homosexual intercourse, adultery, wearing jewelry and fancy clothes, and being drunk in public. Soon bands of youth committed to Girolamo began to wander the streets and to physically attack those they found, both men and women, who failed to conform with the new morality. Beginning in 1496 Girolamo also organized “Bonfires of the Vanities”: annual public burnings of objects, including books, which were considered morally harmful. One such burning even consumed paintings by Sandro Botticelli.
Rodrigo Borgia took the name Alexander 6th when he became pope in 1492. He remained pope until his death in 1503. He laughed when he first read Girolamo’s criticism of his corruption and that of the Church under his leadership. Charles 8th, king of
In September 1495 Alexander ordered Girolamo to stop preaching. Girolamo continued to preach with angrier words against Alexander, his own enemies in
By March 1498, the rulers of
Girolamo’s claim to be a prophet of God was flatly denied by a Franciscan preacher. The Franciscan challenged Girolamo to a trial by fire: both would walk through flames. The one protected by God, and emerging from the flames unharmed, would be the one shown by God himself to be speaking the truth. Without asking his permission, Girolamo’s friend and fellow monk, Domenico, accepted the challenge and volunteered to walk in Girolamo’s place. The public spectacle was set to take place on April 7, 1498.
The day came, thousands gathered, but all got soaked by a sudden rainstorm. Florentine leaders then cancelled the test. Disappointed inhabitants decided Girolamo was an imposter, attacked the Monastery of San Marco, and took him prisoner along with his dear friend Domenico and another monk.
Under torture, Girolamo confessed to making up his prophecies but later asserted that they were true. After further torture, he again said his prophecies were false. For his own consolation, he wrote reflections on Psalms 51 and 31 at this time.
A court of political and religious leaders found Girolamo and his two associates guilty as heretics (false believers) and schismatics (dividers of the one true Church) and sentenced them to death. On May 23, 1498, the three were hanged, their bodies burned, and their ashes scattered in the
Girolamo’s followers collected and preserved his writings. His enemies the Medicis returned to power in 1512 and, in 1531, were made hereditary dukes of Florence.
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