Baptist in Florence
“Adventist, Baptist, Evangelical of the Brethen, Metodist and Valdensian church in Florence”,
The Baptist religion is charaterized by the fundamental and unconditional attachment to the Sacred Scriptures which are considered as the totally inspired Word not only in its message but also in the strict sense of the text. The teachings and testimony of the Baptists have, therefore, a particular biblical character that gives them a certain archaic quality, yet have an unquestionable penetrating force into the working class.
Everything is strongly rooted by focusing profoundly on the figure and deeds of Christ, the crucifixion and resurrection, and is manifested in an incessant sanctification of believer’s entire existence, which rises from the belief in the conversion and resurrection of man.
Baptists are distinguished by their punctual religious choice as an act of faith and mature will. They are called Baptists because of the importance they attribute to the baptism, which takes place only as an adult with an impressive ceremony in which the catechumen appear dressed in white in front of the pastor who then immerses them in the bath.
Chronologically, the Baptist movement precedes the great religious reawakening that took place in the Anglo-Saxon world around the first half of rhe 18th century. Every community is independent from other communities and their administrative bodies. The church must renounce to any form of wordly supremacy and, consequently, cannot sign any concordat what-so-ever: within a free church is a free state.
The Baptist religion is a poor religion of its own free will, as one can see by proof of its very own poverty: the Baptist community, therefore, is profoundly rooted within the people and is an example within itself of what is preached (especially in the proletariat population of black America, two-thirds of which are Baptist). The simple origins of these communities, however, have not prevented numerous followers to carry out important roles in political and social struggles, be it inside or outside of their country. One major example is Martin Luther King (1929-1968).
There are about forty million Baptists in the world, ten thousand of which are in Italy. They arrived in Florence from Livorno in 1881 with Giuseppe Baratti and the English missionary John Wall, who, in a numerously attended ceremony, baptized the first five Florentine followers in the Arno river.
The beginning of the history of the Baptist Church of Florence is very peculiar: in 1778 a group of Florentines signed a deed in which they would dedicate themselves to the construction of a theatre in Borgognissanti.
As the years passed, the theatre was built with a large stage and fifty-nine boxes arranged on three levels, adorned with ornaments and stucco-work. A twenty-two candle chandelier hung from the ceiling which was decorated with a star-filled sky, and from the proscenium hung a gracious clock. In 1866, following a press campaign set out to give theatre more “serious” names, the Theatre of the Solleciti, as it was then called, became entitled Theatre Rossini, where three of Rossini’s operas were performed.
Afterwards, the company that ran the theatre found itself in great economic difficulty and, in 1887, the prefect of Florence shut down the theatre for security reasons since the function of numerous wooden structure were not guaranteed safe.
The premises were then used as a book deposit, until 1895 when it was acquired by the English Baptist Mission which, at that time in Florence, still only had a meeting room in the Palazzo Buondelmonti in Piazza S. Trinita.
At that time Baptist community was conducted by the missionary N.H. Shaw and Pastor Allegri who, as noted in the church’s memoirs, were concerned about “trying to cancel, as far as possible, the appearance of a theatre” The church (Borgognissanti 4) was inaugurated on November 4th, 1895, with the presence of all the representatives of the Evangelical community of Florence. The sermon was conducted by Prof. Giovanni Luzzi.
In 1908, the building was completely renovated, retaining its “horse-shoe” shape as can still be seen today.
The Florentine Baptist community that accounts for circa 350 followers, partecipates in the numerous educational and social programs for avangelical groups in Florence, one of which is exemplified by the 20-year old “Scuola Serale” or Evening School in the Santa Croce area, an institution that is extremely appreciated in its neighbourhood.