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FLORENTINE EXCEPTIONALISMS

Florence is most famous throughout the world for its central role in the Italian Renaissance and the associated rich architecture and cultural heritage. Less well known outside Italy is its peculiar role within Italy’s modern history.

Focusing merely on Florentine history since World War II, one must note the vanguard role of Florence in the closing months of the Nazi occupation, the first instance in the long march of Allied troops from Sicily to Sfidtirol when the Anglo-American forces, upon entering a major city, discovered a fully functioning city administration already in full control of operations. The Tuscan National Liberation Committee (CTLN), the force behind the selfadministration of Florence which puzzled Allied strategists, was heavily influenced by the presence of leading intellectuals and activists of the radical democratic Partito d’Azione, and it was little surprise that the most concerted effort by post-liberation civil authorities to give a prominent place to the network of National Liberation Committees within the structures of postliberation Italy emerged from the activist circles within the CTLN. The important, if short-lived, Partito d’Azione would leave a lasting mark on the intellectual atmosphere of the city on the Arno, symbolized perhaps most markedly by the national and international radiance of a journal like Ilponte.[1]

Catholicism in Florence likewise displayed an unusual vitality, no doubt facilitated by the fortunate appointment by Pius XI of Elia Dalla Costa as archbishop of Florence, a post which this close friend of Angelo Roncalli held from 1931 until his death in 1961. The protective hand of Elia Dalla Costa permitted the formation of a series of nonconformist experiments and created sufficient free space for the relatively unhindered projects of reform-minded individuals even in the dark decades of Pius XII’s pontificate.[2] The internationally most renowned figurehead of Florentine progressive Catholicism was no doubt Giorgio La Pira, from 1950 to 1956 and 1960 to 1964 mayor of the city on the ticket of DC. His keen attention to the social dimension of Catholic teachings ensured his popularity amongst the popular classes of Florentine society. As mentioned already in Chapter 1, a series of high-powered East-West peace initiatives, with leading politicians from both sides of the Iron Curtain benefiting from Florentine hospitality to explore and forge personal ties with their respective counterparts—and this in the middle of the Cold

War!—firmly established the reputation of Florence as a city of peace. Predictably, it also led to criticisms of La Pira by the Catholic hierarchy including DC.[3]

Florence provided a more favourable environment—certainly as long as Elia Dalla Costa was in control—to the free development of perhaps a higher number of prescient reform-oriented progressive Catholic intellectuals and activists than any other single Italian city. One of the most famous Italian Catholic writers, David Maria Turoldo, spent a half-dozen of his crucial midcareer years in Tuscany’s capital city. Ernesto Balducci spent most of his adult years in or near Florence, as did the brilliant parish priest and educator, Don Lorenzo Milani, whose 1967 Lettere a una professoressa became the bible of the Italian student movement and was rapidly translated into forty-odd languages. Don Bruno Borghi, an ordained parish priest, with the approval of Elia Dalla Costa, for some years in the 1950s took up full-time industrial labour and, though a lone ranger in the Italy of the 1950s, he is therefore sometimes regarded as Italy’s first worker priest. Don Luigi Rosadoni, an increasingly restless and activist parish priest, played a major role in the spread of German and Dutch post-conciliar theology into Italy. Rosadoni co-founded one of the most visible of the Florentine base communities, the Comunita di Risurrezione, and became one of the animators of the Bolletino di collega- menti. Another one in this hall of fame of open-minded innovators was Don Enzo Mazzi, born in Borgo San Lorenzo to the north of Florence, who in 1954 at the age of 27 was appointed parish priest in a brand-new neighbourhood still mostly on the drawing board of city planners. The neighbourhood was the Isolotto, and a dozen years after Don Enzo took up his post, the Isolotto became to second wave European Left Catholicism what the Besan^on watch factory LIP became for the post-1968 European New and Far Left: the internationally most famous and infamous location of visionary conflicts— in this case between Left Catholic grassroots communities and the various levels of the church hierarchy.

  • [1] See, notably, the two-volume study by Ettore Rotelli, La ricostruzione in Toscana dal CLNai partiti (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1980-1), on these points, but also two superb document collections which cast vivid light on the conjuncture of 1944/5 in the Tuscan capital city: the two-volume edited collection by Roger Absalom (ed.), Gli Alleati e la ricostruzione in Toscana(1944-1945). Documenti Anglo-Americani (Florence: Olschki, 1988 and 2001), and anothertwo-volume compendium edition: Pier Luigi Ballini (ed.), La Nazione del Popolo. Organo delComitato Toscano di Liberazione Nazionale (11 agosto 1944-3 luglio 1946) (Florence: RegioneToscana, 1998).
  • [2] Bruna Bocchini Camaiani, Ricostruzione concordataria e processi di secolarizzazione.L’azione pastorale di Elia Dalla Costa (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1983), comes closest to a biographyof this important and remarkable figure in Florentine and Italian Catholic history, though it doesnot cover the crucial period from 1954 until his death in 1961.
  • [3] There exists an abundance of literature on this dynamic and nonconformist Catholicprofessor of law, antifascist, and tireless peace activist. For two highly recommended introductory biographies, see note 134 in Chapter 1.
 
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