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Monday, September 14, 2009

Been There, Done That? Farrier Shrine to St Eloi Shoeing a Horse at Orsanmichele in Florence, Italy

by Fran Jurga | 13 September 2009 | Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog

Dr. Gaunt recognized a familiar scene when he looked up: anvils, hammers, and farriers at work. (Photo: Dr Geoff Gaunt)
British Columbia veterinarian Geoff Gaunt was strolling down the narrow streets of Florence, Italy on his summer vacation when he looked up...and smiled. He snapped a photo for the farriers back home, and I'm sharing it with you all, too.

Dr. Gaunt just happened to be standing in a magic place, in front of the church of Orsanmichele. This is no ordinary church; it dates back to the 8th century. But in the early 1300s, the church was damaged by fire. Who came to its rescue but the trade guilds in the city who were, strangely enough, also patrons of the artists. In exchange for their patronage, the guilds stipulated that shrines to their patron saints would be erected on the exterior of Orsanmichele.

Cue the moneychangers, the judges and notaries, the wool combers, the armorers, the flax merchants, the silk weavers, the shoemakers, the carpenters and masons, and the grocers. And, most definitely, cue the smiths!

You don't have to be a veterinarian to know that something isn't right about the left front leg of that horse; the legend of St Eligius (also called St Eloi) is known throughout Europe. (Photo: Dr Geoff Gaunt)

The smiths commissioned Nanni, the son of noted artist Antonio di Banco, to create their shrine to St Eligius, the patron saint of smiths and farriers everywhere. Not only did Nanni sculpt the figure, he created a bas relief at the foot depicting the saint's famed deed--removing the leg of a fractious horse, taking it to the anvil, shoeing the foot, and then returning it to the horse.

It's all right there on the city street of Florence, decorated with little panels of tongs. In fact, the guild shrines are undergoing restoration now. Some are being replaced by replicas, since the originals are so valuable.

This action by the guilds in Florence is similar to the financing of the stained glass windows in the cathedral at Chartres in France. If you go there, you will find a stained glass window of a farrier at work, possibly St Eligius again.

The museum guidebook tells us that the guilds decorated the statues on their feast days and on St Anne's day. St Eligius Day is the first week in December and is a shoeing holiday all over Europe in the Catholic countries. Farriers and smiths gather and have a day of feasting and parade through the streets with their banners. No work is done.

It's easy to imagine farriers for the last 600 years marching down this little street to this shrine. Some day I'd like to be there to greet them...if there are any left in Florence, the world's great capital of art. Now we know that the smiths and farriers helped make Florence that art capital...just another amazing fact in the worldwide history and tradition of the shoeing smith.

Thanks to Dr Geoff Gaunt for sharing his photos with Hoofcare and Lameness. Click here to visit the web site for his Elk Lake Veterinary Hospital in Victoria, BC.

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