One of my favorite spots along our Discovery Walk in Florence is the loggia of the Museo del Bigallo just across from the entrance to the renowned Duomo. This loggia, dating to the middle of the 14th century, formed the corner of a building then occupied by the charitable brotherhood known as the Misericordia, founded in 1244 and now one of the oldest charitable organizations in the world. Originally founded to aid and comfort the ill and to transport accident victims to the hospital, this volunteer group also removed corpses from the medieval streets. And it was here, in the shelter of the beautiful loggia, that the city’s lost, sick or abandoned children were cared for by the brotherhood and housed for three days. If not claimed by relatives they were then assumed to have been abandoned for good and placed in foster homes.
The Misericordia, taken from the Latin word for mercy, still operates in Florence and you will see their name on many of the ambulances used in the city. The history of this amazing group can now be seen exhibited in the newly renovated Museum of the Misericordia, located just across the street from the loggia. Having just re-opened on January 20, 2016 after three years of renovations, the museum displays art works, art objects and furniture owned and used by the brotherhood. But, to me, the most fascinating exhibits are the items used by the members during their everyday activities.
I’m sure you’ve seen images of the members in old paintings wearing their distinctive robes with pointed hoods. Originally the traditional robes were red but later were made in black with distinctive hoods that covered their faces completely with just two holes for the eyes. The robes weren’t hooded to create a solemn or dark image but rather to hide the true identity of the brotherhood members because, they believed, good deeds should not be performed not for personal glory or recognition and therefore should be performed anonymously.
Here you can also see how the brotherhood transported the bodies of sick or deceased individuals. Originally, a large hand carried basket was used. Later this developed into a litter-wagon pulled either by hand or by horse. There’s also a display of some of the somewhat primitive medical equipment used.
If you’re in Florence I know you will be near the Duomo at some point in time. If so, be sure to take note of the beauty of the historical loggia. There you’ll also find the entrance to the small Museo del Bigallo with an entry fee of around five euros. And across the street is the larger Museum of the Misericordia which is now open from 10:00am to noon and from 3:00pm to 5:00pm Monday through Friday. It’s also open from 10:00am to noon on Saturday but closed on Sunday. Recently, admission to this museum was free.