The Magi and the Medici
(This paper follows the earlier paper on the Chapel of the Magi and runs concurrently with the videos here on these subjects)
Lorenzo, Il Magnifico, not only created and loved beauty magnificently, as his name suggests, but he kept the fidelity of beauty in his life as poet, as a great ambassador and statesman and as a benefactor of the arts. The Confraternity of the Star ran Florence and Giuliano de’ Medici, Lorenzo’s brother was its head[i]. This Confraternity was also Lorenzo’s concern and it was based in the Convent of San Marco, full of Fra’ Angelico’s wondrous and unforgettable frescoes. Franco Cardini reminds us, ’The Captains and Governor of the Compagnia dei Magi were usually strictly trusted liegemen of the Medici household.’ [ii]. The feast of January 6th was celebrated extravagantly by both the city and the Medici, whose ‘advance through the streets of ‘their’ city on the feast of the Epiphany was also their very own political and family epiphany, their taking possession of their kingdom.’ [iii].
The Confraternity, always under the eyes and the spies of Il Magnifico, ran all matters Florentine and all to do with Florence as an Italian city. Early on in Lorenzo’s career, when he was a very young man, he found himself in a political corner over one of his satellite towns, Volterra. Crushing rebellion there and with alacrity and brutality, the inexperienced Lorenzo created a situation for himself that he would long regret. Unification for Italy was still a long way ahead and the need for strong allies pressing. The Papacy had their own, subterranean and often vindictive focus, forging ahead with all matters Roman in a church politically composed. The war with Volterra was the first of the errors that Lorenzo made and, like many rich and powerful families they were envied and even hated. The crescendo of this negative came on 26th April, 1478, when beloved Giuliano, was brutally murdered in the Duomo during High Mass. This attempted coup to oust the Medici from their powerful seat failed, nevertheless, Giuliano was dead and Lorenzo seriously wounded. Giuliano had been, ironically, the peacemaker and salve to the great demands of his brother’s political life and his death shocked Florence. The conspirators of the plot were numerous: Francesca de’ Pazzi; Francesco Salviati; Girolamo Riario and less openly Pope Sixtus IV and, it is also said, Federico da Montefelcro, Duke of Urbino. The first three in the list were as equally brutally killed as Giuliano, some of their bodies swung from windows and lintels through the city.
We remember that Florence was run by the Compagnia dei’ Magi, that Cosimo’s scholar-colleague, Marsilio Ficino, had his own ‘Star’ group, the Academia and the Chapel was called by the Medici, The Chapel of the Magi: so the STAR is deliberate and large, we shall return to why this is so . The murder of such a prominent member of Florence’s Star Brethren is particularly poignant since Dante’s Stil Nuovo was already being physically translated into daily life from the plane of Ideas by the work of Ficino’s team: there is a wonderful, often subterranean flow to this history if we would but see it. The attempted coup in which Giuliano was killed is perhaps the first moment when the implacably narrow-minded nature of man overcame the ideals of the sacred underpinning of the Renaissance. Such a plot to kill both Medici brothers failed but it removed a gentle giant and his influence in a city of burgeoning culture and, particularly, thought. Giuliano was deeply loved both by his family and the people of Florence; he was a man of great beauty and talent and was, in many ways, the ideal ambassador of the way of life encouraged and trained by the Platonic Academy.
The Medici and their close associates knew and worked with what the Magi embodied and they became able to draw on its potency and indeed, magic, a word which describes a special kind of focus and its requisite frequency. When Cosimo made the Chapel of the Magi in his home in the Via Larga he was quietly proclaiming his allegiance to and perpetuation of the ancient men of learning and what they did. Everyone remembers the Three Kings who came to the birth of the Christ but they are not so well acquainted with the group they represented.
The Magi were known in Ancient Egyptian times as priests, yet we hear most about them through Persia and Zoroastrianism. The word ‘Magus’ only seems to be mentioned once in the Avesta[iv] where its use shows that it was an official title in the sixth century for a dignified priestly tribe. We derive our word ‘magic’ from the term ‘magus’ and this seems to be a reason for the complex and often subterranean route of a tribe whose powers were apparently legendary. The substance of what these men of knowledge knew and could do was talked of and passed down, and in a faith that was universal. Such a faith conceived of God and human beings as co-workers and counted magical skill[v], that is, sacred focus, as worthy of honour and reverence. The ‘magic’ spoken of here is about frequency.
It is not surprising then, that such a worthy tribe, with secret knowledge, suffered ruthless destruction of their possessions and sanctuaries; their magical books were burnt by St. Paul’s Ephesian converts; a similar persecution followed under Diocletian[vi] during which time the word ‘magus’ became synonymous with ‘quack’. It is a certainty that in any situation where something apparently unnatural occurs, man may be fearful but it is interesting to observe the reluctance of the Ephesians to include them in a faith whose leader had become famous for His supernatural works.
The history of the Magi is littered with dissolution, in the Hellenistic period the Greeks thought the Magi barbaric, something that is understandable in a people whose reverence for logos was paramount: the Magi work in and through their heart intelligence and focus. The conquest of Alexander the Great was again to have been destructive to these priestly men; the diaspora that followed was extensive and many of the towns to which they fled became cultural cities because they started academies of learning that went on to flourish even after they were dead. The Magi went to Asia Minor, to Commagene, to Cappodocia and Pontus; to the Greek towns of Lydia, to Media and Parthia, to Phyrgia and to Egypt[vii]. Whilst there would appear to be a dearth of written information on these priest-teachers they clearly existed and claim a revered position in many cultures of the world, not least because their Star guided them to the birth of the Christ Yeshua.
Whist the Confraternity of the Star lived in the ceremony and fraternal organisation of Florence, its deep heart was most intensely lived in Plato’s Academy, created by Marsilio Ficino. The Florentine church of the other Mary, ‘Santa Maria Novella’ the new Mary, Mary Magdalene, was central to both Ficino’s Academy and the Compagnia dei Magi. Such an established place of learning, Dante Alighieri was involved after Beatrice’s death with the Dominican school there, guards in her fortress, the fierce undertones of Templar fealty: the floor geometries yield this at a glance. Like other Florentine churches of this time the church of the New Mary holds frequency codes inscribed on the outside of the building and reflected and developed in the floors, walls and ceilings within. One of the first impressions that I received from the decoration of the arches in Santa Maria Novella’s walls was the heavy presence of ancient Egypt and the fine frequency signature of the teams who created architectural magnificence there. Ficino himself lived directly behind Santa Maria Novella, no doubt having requisite access to all of her buildings and, significantly, what lay beneath them. These latter encompassed a most beautiful dispensary, still in existence today where it always stood; the area in front of the church was filled with gardens.
[i] Joscelyn Godwin, The Pagan dream of the Renaissance (London:Thames & Hudson
Ltd., 2002) p.11.
[ii] Franco Cardini op.cit. p.24.
[iii] Franco Cardini, The Chapel of the Magi in Palazzo Medici (Florence:Mandragora, 2001) p.26.
[iv] A.D. Nock, Essays on Religion and the Ancient World (Vol.I) ed. Z. Stewart, (Clarendon Press: Oxford 1972) p 308.
[v] Nock is particularly informative on the Magi and the term ‘magic’ in particular, it is: ‘to divert the course of nature by methods which to our science appear to be of a non-rational kind, or which to the user appear to rest on some hidden and peculiar wisdom…’ op. cit. p. 312..
[vi] A.D.Nock, op. cit. p.177 ff.
[vii] A.D. Nock, op.cit. p.319.