Hidden away in the heart of Florence is the tiny oratory of San Martino dei Buonomini. Since 1478 it has been the seat of the Compagnia dei Dodici Buonomini (Company of Twelve Good Men), a charitable body that had been founded in 1441 by Fra Antonino Pierozzi (1389-1459), the first archbishop of Florence. Its role was to assist the poveri vergognosi (shamed poor), people who had once been well off, but who had fallen on hard times and were too ashamed to beg.
The interior of the oratory is decorated with a series of ten frescoes (c. 1478-9, artist unknown), eight of which illustrate charitable works.
When the Compagnia dei Dodici Buonomini ran out of funds, a candle was lit outside the building to announce the need for more donations. The Italian expression 'essere ridotto al lumicino' (to be reduced to a small light), in other words to be stony broke, derives from this practise.
The Compagnia dei Dodici Buonomini is still active in the field of charity.
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