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Where the Guilds worshipped (and showed off)


This wonderfully eccentric church looks like no other in the world: it rises up in a tall, neat, three-storey rectangle. It was built on the site of ancient San Michele ad Hortum (popularly reduced to ‘Orsanmichele’), a 9th-century church located near a vegetable garden, which the comune destroyed in 1240 in order to erect a grain market; after a fire in 1337 the current market building (by Francesco Talenti and others) was erected, with a loggia on the ground floor and emergency storehouses on top where grain was kept against a siege.

The original market had a pilaster with a painting of the Virgin that became increasingly celebrated for performing miracles. The area around the Virgin became known as the Oratory, and when Talenti reconstructed the market, his intention was to combine its secular and religious functions; each pilaster of the loggia was assigned to a guild to adorn with an image of its patron saint.

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Text © Dana Facaros & Michael Pauls

Images by Baldrini, Creative Commons License, Jennifer Mei, Sailko, GNU Creative Commons License