Congregazione dei buonomini di San Martino

The story of the Bonomini begins in 1441 and after more than five and a half centuries it is still going on today.
omini bisognosiCosimo, father of the Medici dynasty, used to ruin his political opponents with impossibly high taxes, a much more modem technique than the mediaeval method of physically eliminating one's enemies. This led to the formation of a category of "shame-faced poor", shame-faced not because they were shamefully poor but because they were ashamed to be poor. They were wealthy people, merchants, craftsmen, who had fallen into poverty but maintained their dignity and so felt unable to beg. Their upbringing made their circumstances all the more tragic. From the monastery of San Marco and the Dominican order came Beato Angelico, who was able to paint spiritual subjects, and Santo Antonio who knew how to experience them and give others that experience. The little enlightened monk, with his quick-witted and ever-youthful face, that you can see in the very fine wooden bust in the Bono-mini chapel, escaped to Maremma when he heard that the Pope wanted to make him a bishop. But he had to return and bear the burden of the Florentine Churc. This same little friar had a talent for reminding the powerful of hidden misery and wrongs to be righted and had a simple idea; the most inspired and enduring ideas are often the simplest.

He summoned twelve Bonomini, two for each of the six districts of the city, and made them Protectors of the Shame-Faced Poor. He chose them from various levels of the social strata and gave them one basic rule: they were to collect from those who could give and give everything they received in strict secrecy, finding and assisting those poor people who hid behind their silence, victims of their own misery and dignity. Those poor people of whom there are still many today and who do not dare or are too ashamed to beg.

votazione fagioli

From 1441 the Bonomini have always continued through the centuries and Florence has always helped them to help others. Whenever one of them dies, the Bonomini ask the Holy Spirit for inspiration in electing another. Every time they run out of funds a generous offer arrives. When they have no money they light a candle in the window of their headquarters in Piazzetta Dante Alighieri, opposite the Courthouse. The news that the Bonomini "have lighted the little lamp" runs through the city and Florence rediscovers its generous heart, also somewhat hidden, like the shame-faced poor. Every Friday, the twelve Bonomini and their six assistants meet to discuss the new and old cases, the hidden miseries and vote - against using a white bean and in favour using a black one - on the assistance to be paid out. They give priority to assistance that helps the recipients "pick themselves up" but they also help those who tack the strenght, ability or health to do so.

The story goes that Cosimo "feeling that he had money of dubious origins" consulted the Pope who asked him to give 10 000 florins for the restoration of the monastery of San Marco. Cosimo summoned his architect Michelozzo and restored the monastery where he built a cell for himself - where still today one can admire the fresco by Beato Angelico spending 40 000 florins. Thereafter, the Medici always helped the Bonomini with contributions and special laws which, among other things, granted a kind of tex amnesty to those who donated money to the Bonomini and some of these wire protectors of the Bonomini.

Even now, every day someone, because they want to give thanks for favours received, or in memory of a loved one, or because they have a strong sense of charity, contributes to the offertory box or sends help to the Bonomini. Let us face the truth: who can really be sure that they deserve all they have? Who can be sure that they won't have a clearer conscience by silently stretching out their hand towards the hidden misfortunes of others? We are living in difficult times; the laws of the economy are merciless, many lose their business, are in debt or discouraged. The requests for help are growing in amount and frequency and the Bonomini - even when they are scraping the bottom of the barrel -wait confidently because Florence has never disappointed them and has rarely waited for them to the light the little lamp.