discovering the hidden worlds of women composers

Nun for a night?

Nun for a night?

The highlight of my wanderings around Florence came in via Laura. Francesca Caccini – she who wrote the music for Roger’s Liberation – spent her last years working in a convent. La Crocetta was, however, not just a convent: it was the Medici princesses’ convent. (A few years before Caccini arrived there, the Medici architects had designed an extension – just a little palace, nothing much at all – to the convent so that one princess would have appropriate accommodation. For herself and her six live-in servants.)

I’m currently trying to write about this final phase in Caccini’s life, so I headed for via Laura. These days, a university department has colonised most of La Crocetta. I popped in, but could see little that evoked the seventeenth century, and much that spoke of functionalist 1970s design. Nevertheless, and this suggests that Italy is starting to make me sentimental, I felt moved by the sight of so many young women students, going about their business, gaining an education, as if this was the most natural thing in the world. Not so in 1635 of course.

I then went next door. Climbing up to the first floor, I saw the very firmly closed door to the Hotel Morandi Alla Crocetta. Again, Italy must be getting to me, because I rang on the bell and brazenly asked if I could see the chapel of La Crocetta: my google searches had informed me, via no less, that it had survived. A very kind, helpful, and tolerant woman nipped off to check if the chapel was being used. I imagined a spiritual sanctuary, with candles and incense. She returned to say I could come with her, and what I saw, to my surprise was a hotel bedroom which was also one end of a chapel. It was a strange moment: past and present colliding, spiritual and secular colliding even more. Then again, that was what La Crocetta was all about, at least when Caccini was there – a perfect example of what has been called the permeability between convent and the outside world.


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