Welcome back to Real Life Assassin’s Creed, your weekly insight into some of history’s most compelling individuals brought to life in Ubisoft’s stella series. Today we are going to be looking at one of the biggest real-life events in history that Assassin’s Creed had tackled when the series’ second game was released back in 2009. It was an event that toppled the mighty De’Medici dynasty from Florence, terrified the Borgia Papacy in Rome and continued to shake Italy to the core for years after. How one man led an entire city on a crusade against knowledge and progress itself and threw the heart of the Renaissance into darkness…
After Ezio saves Caterina Sforza’s children, retrieves the piece of Eden and kills the Orsi Brothers in Forli he encounters Savonarola for the first time. Succumbing to his wounds, Ezio is powerless to stop the hooded monk from opening up the apple and slowly slipping into insanity. Pursuing the monk back to Florence, Ezio finds himself wrapped up in Savonarola’s Bonfire of the Vanities as he attempts to eradicate the corrupting influence the piece of Eden has had on the people. Taking down nine of Savonarola’s commanders and separating the monk from the power of the apple, the now freed people of Florence seize Savonarola and attempt to burn him alive. In one final act of mercy, the assassin stops the burning by swiftly killing the monk.
Girolamo Savonarola was an unwavering worshipper of God, driven mad by his own devotion just as much as the piece of Eden. Witnessing the corruption of the church against the poor and needy first hand, Savonarola was hell bent on returning Florence back to the times before ownership, before wealth and before all the sinful activities that surrounded him. From books to musical instruments, nothing was spared from his bonfires.
In real life history, Savonarola really did take over the city of Florence and usher in a dark period of fanatical bonfires against anything that the monk deemed sinful, in an attempt to revert the city to a time before ownership and wealth. Taking advantage of a French invasion of northern Italy, Savonarola actually had control of the city for four years and would strike up a fierce rivalry with the Pope Alexander VI, who we know as Rodrigo Borgia in the game.
The people soon grew tired of Savonarola’s relentless pursuit to eradicate seemingly anything he wanted however, and soon a revolution was threatening to break out. When Savonarola refused to travel to Rome to answer to the Pope, he was excommunicated by Alexander VI and by 1498 he had been sentenced to death. In one final desperate act to prove his supposed ability to perform miracles and command the respect of the people, Savonarola announced the first trial by fire in nearly four hundred years. The final roll of the dice for Savonarola proved to be a fiasco. In front of a packed crowd already on the verge of a revolution, the monk cut a timid figure before a sudden rainstorm extinguished the fire and his last chance at commanding any authority.
There was no mercy killing for Savonarola in real life from the people of Florence. Tortured for weeks and made to confess his heresy, the one time leader of the city was brought forward to the people, stripped of his religious clothes and hung above a fire. His remains were cremated in the flames and thrown in the river Arno.
By 1512 the De’Medici had been restored to power in Florence and Savonarola’s takeover of the city has been left as a dark little mark on Italian history; but the story of how an entire city was suddenly plunged into chaos by one man remains one of the most compelling events explored in the game.