I don't believe the rumors of a plan to poison Lorenzo and Guiliano de Medici in their family villa on the sun warmed slopes of Fiesole, four miles above Florence. First, how was the poison to be administered? If a member of the Medici staff had been subverted, why wait for the banquet in honor of Cardinal Raphael Riario, when everyone was on high alert, with enemies in their home? And poison was an uncertain weapon. It might merely sicken the victims. It seems likely to me the banquet was used to lull the Medici and their allies into complacency, and set the stage for the actual assassination to take place the next day, Easter Sunday, 26 April of 1478, inside the Basilica of Maria del Fiore,
There has been a church on this spot out side the city walls since the fifth century, earning it the Italian title “duomo”, meaning 'the bishop's former house.” By the end of the thirteenth century the Florence duomo was too small and decrepit for the growing city, so the council approved a new cathedral, the Church of Saint Mary of the Flowers, 500 feet long, 124 feet wide, with walls supported by Gothic arches soaring 75 feet above the floor, and capable of holding upwards of 12, 000 faithful. The first stone was laid in 1296. Delayed by the Black Death, the red dome was not finished until 1436. Wars would slow work on the facade, which would not be completed for another 500 years. And the decision to murder the two oldest Medici males in this sacred place, on this sacred day, was a display of the Pope's arrogance and desperation.
Cardinal Raphael Riario entered the church with the man the Medici had preferred as archbishop of Florence, Rinaldo Orsini, and with Pope Sixtus' original choice for that chair, the visiting archbishop of Pisa Francesco Salviati. Accompanying them was Lorezo de Medici and his close friend Frecesco Nori. Lorenzo took a pew in the front, and since his brother Guiliano had not appeared, Nori sat next to him on the aisle. The Cardinal would officiate at the mass, assisted by priests, and the two Archbishops sat next to each other, in chairs near the alter. Before them the great space of the cathedral filled with 10,000 penitents.
At about noon priest Francesco de Pazzi and Bernardo Bandi appeared at Guiliano de Medici's home, seeking to accompany Guiliano to the service, arguing their joint entrance would show unity on this holy day. Perhaps Guiliano ( above) was still ill, or perhaps the visitors plied the rakish young man with wine, or perhaps their argument took time to be effective. In any case the three men left together and were late in arriving at the duomo. They were forced to take seats near the rear of the cathedral, with Guiliano sitting directly in front of Francesco and Bernardo. This late arrival separated the intended victims, but it also separated the assassins.
Cardinal Riaro began the mass at one in the afternoon, with the blessing in Latin, “May the Lord be in your heart and on your lips, that you may proclaim his paschal praise worthily and well, in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” While the mass continued, other pieces of the conspiracy were falling into place. Outside of the city, the Duke of Urbano (above) and an in-law to Pope Sixtus, had gathered 600 mercenaries, prepared to storm the city at word the assassinations had taken place. Missing from the ceremony in the cathedral, if any Medici had taken note, was the old man, Jocopo Pazzi. He had gathered about 150 supporters , mostly members of the Perugia clan, in the surrounding streets inside the city. These forces were primed to murder the mayor and seize the city hall, and then open the city gates. But everything had to wait until the murders about to take place during the Easter Service.
Slowly, the mass progressed toward its climax, as Riaro raised the host to be blessed. This motion was a signal for the bells to be set off in the tower. And also for Archbishop Salviati.to rise silently from his chair and quickly move toward an exit. And in the back of the cathedral, for Francesco de Pazzi to pull a knife from his priestly robes. He stood. He raised his arm, screaming, “Take it, traitor!" And with all the force he could muster he drove the blade deep into the top of Guiliano de Medici's skull (above). In its first instant the Pazzi conspiracy had achieved half of its goals.
Despite the loud tolling of the bells, there were screams and shouts of murder heard from the rear of the great cathedral. The two who had been assigned to murder Lorenzo de Medici, the priest Setefano da Bagnone and the vicar-in-training Antonio Maffei de Volterra, must have thought since Guiliano was absent the assignation had been postponed again. But now, as Lorenzo turned to investigate the clamor, one of them drew his dagger. Lorenzo saw the movement and staggered to his feet. The blade sliced across his throat, cutting into the skin and muscle, drawing blood. Lorenzo fell backwards into the aisle, where he could draw his own knife.
In the center of the insanity, and blocking the main entrance door, Francesco de Pazzi had thrown himself upon the wounded Guiliano Medici in such a frenzy, he stabbed himself in the leg, without noticing the wound. Bernardo Bandi could do little more than ward off any who were inclined to intervene. None were and Guiliano suffered 19 separate knife wounds before Francesco paused to catch his breath.
At the front of the sacred hall, Frecesco Nori drew his own knife and moved to block the attackers, as other Medici allies hustled Lorenzo from the nave and into the sacristy, where the priests robed before and after services. The Medici supporters blockaded the only door, and the two attackers, Stefano and Antonio had to satisfy themselves with cutting down Lorenzo's friend, Frencesco .
Parishioners were climbing over pews to escape the church, and were now streaming out every exit they could find. Families huddled to protect their children. The old and blind were abandoned in the general panic. The bewildered Cardinal Riaro was pinned against the alter by pro-Medici priests who a moment before had been assisting him. They would later testify under oath he made no attempt to take part in the violence or to call for help.
Archbishop Francesco Salviati, still dressed in his robes, walked quickly from the duomo, In the streets outside he was met by the 150 Pazzi and Pergia, headed by the Pazzi patriarch, Jocopo. Together they marched the less than a quarter mile south to the city hall, the old palace, the Palazzo Vecchio. By the time they arrived, the bloodshed at the cathedral had already ended, and Francesco Pazzi, bleeding from his self inflicted leg wound, and realizing that Lorenzo was still alive, was himself staggering toward the Palazzo Vecchio.
Entering the palace by the Sala dei Duecento, the hall of the two hundred, Jacopo and Salviati, in front of 150 angry looking men, demanded the guards take them to Cesare Petrucci, the Gonfloniere, or mayor, who lived in the palace. It was an unusual request for a Sunday morning, particularly from Salviati, who was supposed to be at the Easter Services. His guard already up, Cesare, a Medici supporter, agreed to speak with Salviati, but only him. The problem, for the Pazzi, was that the hall had originally been the city council or Signoria, meeting room, and the doors originally only led to rooms were ballots were counted. Because of this the door handles were cleverly recessed and hidden. Once Salviati entered the palace proper, he was cut off Jacopo and his soldiers, who could not find a door they could open.
Trying to convince Cesare to step outside to speak to Jacopo, Salvati suddenly found words difficult. He was excited, and clearly worried, and Cesare responded by having his guards put the archbishop under arrest. At about the same time, the blood stained Francesco had made it to the Palazzo, and gave his uncle the bad news. Lorenzo de Medici still lived. Their only hope left was the 600 soldiers waiting outside the city under the Duke of Urbano. Francesco, weak from blood loss, decided to return home. Jacopo decided to leave town. And the Pazzi and Pergia supporters who had done nothing but follow orders, were abandoned to fend for themselves. No one gave word to the Duke, to enter Florence.
The Pazzi Conspiracy, backed and funded by Pope Sixtus, had collapsed after murdering one unarmed man in the middle of a holy Easter service. And now the bill for that murder had to be paid.
- 30 -