Several months after his excommunication, Savonarola called for a gathering of the most powerful European rulers and aristocrats of his time in order to depose Pope Alexander VI. In Savonarola’s opinion, Alexander VI – the infamous patriarch of the Borgia family – was utterly corrupt and unfit to remain the head of the Catholic Church. The friar undoubtedly saw much of Lorenzo the Magnificent in Alexander, and much of the Medici’s hold of Florence in the Borgia’s hold of Rome. The call for a council that would oust the Spanish pope was most urgent and necessary.

Portrait of Pope Alexander VI, born Rodrigo de Borja

Even in his time, Alexander VI was known for fostering the family’s nepotist ties and cold-blooded crimes that have made the name “Borgia” synonymous with unrelenting debauchery and ambition. With the death of his son Giovanni, second Duke of Gandía, Alexander’s reprehensible behavior became all the more apparent. The Pope was losing favor both in Rome and abroad. It was the perfect timing for the removal of the Borgia from the Holy See.

Alexander VI, however, intercepted almost all communication made between Florence and the European powers that were to take part of this council. Now with tangible reason to brand Savonarola as an enemy of the Church, Alexander sought the immediate suppression of the friar. By the end of May of 1498, Savonarola had failed the ordeal by fire and been executed. The anti-Papal Council had been averted.

Had Savonarola succeeded in calling the anti-Papal Council, Alexander may not have been Pope for much longer. Charles VIII of France, who had successfully invaded and plundered Northern Italy before being forced to retreat in 1495, was eager to conquer permanently those territories he could not hold on to upon his retreat, including Rome. If other powers – namely, the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdoms of England and Hungary – were to join the French, Alexander’s days as Bishop of Rome and ruler of the Papal States were numbered. While it is hard to predict how the political landscape of Italy would change, it becomes evident that not even all the kingdoms, duchies, republics, marquisates and bishoprics of Italy could have defended Alexander VI against the anti-Papal forces.

Charles VIII of France enters Florence

Such a triumph would have strengthened Savonarola’s position in such a way as to make him the perfect candidate to replace Alexander and become the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church – probably a mere formality in his eyes, since he already saw himself as the chosen mouthpiece of God anyway. As the formal successor of Alexander VI and backed by this formidable council of Christian rulers, the Dominican friar would have reshaped the Catholic Church to fit his vision. This would most likely entail the relocation of the Apostolic See to the city of Florence, thus merging the Papal States with the Florentine Republic. From there, Savonarola would probably work towards the fulfillment of his dream: turning Florence into the “New Jerusalem” of the Book of Revelations, centralizing all the wealth and power of the two merged states into the capital city.

About the Author:

Daniel T. Gomes is a graphic designer and content writer from Lisbon, Portugal. He currently serves as Biblion’s Assistant Editor, having played a crucial role in the magazine since its inception. He is also a self-published author and one of the hosts of the biweekly Broklahomies Podcast.