The Secret Mission of Verrazano
The man who would convince the king of France to search for Arcadia was Giovanni da Verrazano. He was born into a wealthy Italian family at Val di Greve near Florence in 1485. The Castle Verrazano is built on the foundation of a Roman structure that in turn was built on the foundation of an Etruscan structure, dating to possibly 500 B.C.
Florence from the eleventh century on was a center of commerce for banking and for the wool and silk industry. About one-third of the citizens were in the cloth industry. For all the turmoil caused by Medici maneuvering, Florence was clearly a beneficiary. It had paved roads extending out of the city to a well-traveled trade route into France. Within Italy it was a crossroads city in the North, between Venice and Genoa, and more importantly, between Venice and France. Culturally, the city became the center of the Italian Renaissance. Dante was a Florentine, as was Donatello and Fra Angelico. Petrarch and Boccaccio were sons of Florentines. A legion of artists was incubated under the patronage of Florence’s wealthy. Leonardo da Vinci, possibly the high point of Florentine achievement, is linked permanently to the city’s patron saint. Da Vinci’s one work of sculpture was of St. John the Baptist and his last painting was also St. John the Baptist.
Florence was also a religious crossroads. The Cathar movement had been shared throughout Northern Italy, although its suppression was nothing like the wholesale slaughter in the Languedoc. The new Gnostic-type religion traveled as contraband along with silk and wool on the road from Venice to Lyons. Northern Italy would see the religion of the Cathars stay underground to avoid controversy.
As crusaders looted the works preserved in the East, a text called the Corpus Hermeticum was brought to Florence in 1453. It was believed that it had been written by Hermes Trismegistus, or even by Thoth, the Egyptian god of science and writing. While in another city it might have been burned, Cosimo Medici ordered that other translations be halted until the text could be deciphered. It was nothing short of the secrets of Egyptian architecture and the geometry of the ancients.
Florence already had been captivated by such ancient knowledge.
In a fashion that would have Masonic overtones, the city had been laid out in four quarters. Each quarter had four wards and they were named for mystical symbols including keys, dragons, and unicorns. The center of the city was San Giovanni, St. John.
It would be understood by Florentines that the symbol of St. John and the symbol of the goddess Venus was the same, the Dove. Another of her symbols was the scallop shell that was shared with the ancient goddess Brigit (and shared again with St. James in Compostella). Botticelli would paint his famous Venus, using Simonetta Vespucci, the cousin of Americus, as his model. Venus rising from the sea in a scallop shell would proclaim the ancient still had a place in the modern world.
The secret side of Florentines, including the Verrazano family and others, was that whatever mystical leanings and beliefs were held within the city, they could be hidden in plain sight. The family crest of Verrazano was one such symbol. It began as the same six-pointed star that could be found in the windows of churches in Southern France. It evolved into an eight-pointed star after his journey to the New Arcadia.
The six-pointed star was not to become the Star of David until the seventeenth century. Long before that, it had a much different connotation. The triangle pointing up overlaid on a triangle pointing down represented what would become a Masonic creed: As Above, So Below. It is depicted on Masonic aprons as the square and the compass, the “A” without the bar, over the “V.” In Christian symbols it was the Ave Maria, the words Gabriel used to announce to the Blessed Virgin she was with the Child of God. The number six itself had been a masculine symbol for the sun just as the number five and the pentagram had been a female symbol for the moon.
Five in becoming six creates time and space. Our measurements used in dividing time have been based on six from the beginning of time. The ancient symbol for volume is the six-sided cube. Six was the event in which harmony exists as male and female principle come together. It was an understanding once present in Christianity, later repressed in Roman Christianity as the female was pushed out of the equation.
The city of Florence, the city of the Lily and the Dove, was an Arcadia in itself until the backlash of the church. The reincarnation of the vicious persecution of the Cathars that began in Lyons, Carcassone, and a handful of other cities arose again in the Inquisition that had made its presence felt in Florence. The heart of Cathar religion was the land where the possible family of Jesus, led by Mary Magdalene, hid from persecution. And here was the land where Templar alliances had shifted from the Pope to the religion, or anti-religion, of gnosis. After the destruction of the Languedoc region by the Church in the thirteenth century was over, it still held onto repressed beliefs. Ironically, Lyons became the adopted city of Giovanni as many Florentines fled the Inquisition.
Verrazano himself might have been one of many who left the city before the onslaught of the mad monk Savonarola. Such hammers of God believed the arts and sciences and liberties of Florence were a threat to the church in Rome. Botticelli himself renounced his art in fear of the Catholic punishment for heresy. After a brief period of burning art and banning music, Florence would react by burning Savonarola himself at the stake in the Piazza della Signoria. A stone slab still marks the spot.