Free enamel pin when you buy any two Atlas Obscura products. Shop now.

Florence, Italy

The Bull of Santa Maria del Fiore

This strange bovine gargoyle is said to have been put in place as form of passive aggressive revenge. 

Santa Maria del Fiore, the great cathedral of Florence, hides many details often invisible at first glance. Among them, precisely on the left side of the cathedral, in the direction of the street “Via Ricasoli,” there is a stone bull’s head propped up on one of the capitals, and the story behind its creation may be even stranger than the piece itself.

The unusual sculpture is one of the decorations over the door known as the “Porta delle mandorle” which gives access to the summit of the church’s dome. While no one is sure exactly why the bull was put in place, there are two prevailing theories. According to one version of the animal’s creation, it was said to be a tribute by the builders to the draft animals that were used during the building’s construction work. However, there is another story that is a bit more curious, petty, and funny.

The local legend says that during the construction of the cathedral, one of the stonemasons had an affair with the wife of a rich shopkeeper in the area. When her husband discovered the betrayal, he decided to lodge a complaint directly to the ecclesiastical court, which ended the affair. Heartbroken, the stonemason decided to take revenge by creating a passive aggressive symbol of his love. The mason created the idiosyncratic bull’s head so that the animal’s horns were pointing right towards the shop of the husband as a concrete (pun intended) reminder of who his wife truly loved.

Whichever account of the bull’s creation is the truth, the very existence of the legend ensures that both beasts of burden and the hazards of love will be remembered for as long as the church stands. 

Contributed by
ruggero
Edited by