Today is the Feast of the Annunciation, the celebration of the moment the Archangel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus, the Son of God.
For centuries March 25th marked the start of the new year in Florence. The city didn't adopt the practise of starting the year on January 1st until 1750. There is a large plaque in the Loggia dei Lanzi which records the change. It had been decreed in November 1749 by the grand duke of Tuscany, Francesco Stefano (r. 1737-65).
The city of Florence is awash with images of the Annunciation, but the most famous of image of all takes the form of a fresco and can be found in the church of Santissima Annunziata.
According to legend, the fresco was painted in the 14th century by Frate Bartolomeo. It would, perhaps, be more accurate to say that the fresco was mostly painted by the good monk, for the face of the Madonna is said to have been completed by an angel while he was asleep. Divine intervention gave the image of the Annunciation miraculous powers and Santissima Annunziata soon became a very important place of pilgrimage.
Over time the church filled with ex-voto images given to the Virgin by thousands of people, in thanks for her answering their prayers. In addition to wax models of various body parts, there were hundreds of life-sized wax effigies hanging from the ceiling.
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