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Florence Legends & Curiosities: Berta or the Priest turned to stone

Updated: Mar 15, 2023

On Via Cerretani, on the wall of the church Santa Maria Maggiore, there is a female head in marble dating back to Roman times. And there's two legends having to do with this head and you can't miss it because it's a white marble head sticking out of a brick and stone wall.

The first legend is about a woman named Berta. She lived during the 13th century. She was a commoner and a fruttivendolo, meaning she sold fruits and vegetables right in front of the church. She was a loved and famous character of the neighborhood.

She was dedicated to the church and her garden. She never married or had children. When she grew up, she decided to leave all her possessions to the friars at Santa Maria Maggiore, to whom she entrusted the task of casting a bell for the bell tower.

And this bell was to be rung at sunset in order to warn all the vegetable growers working in the field outside the city walls, that it was time to come back into the city walls. To honor Berta, they have her forever remembered on the side of the church in marble.

The second legend is about a man named Cecco d’Ascoli. He was a professor and scholar at the University of Bologna. In 1327, he was condemned to death as he was accused of witchcraft. As the procession passed by the church, a priest was leaning out of this window and saw Cecco ask for water to one of the soldiers before he was going to be burned alive. And because the priest was convinced that he was the devil, he yelled down to the soldiers:

“If you let him drink water, he will never die”.

Which of course is absurd, Right?

At which Cecco, looked up at the priest in rage and said:

“And your head will never leave that window!”

And it was then the priest was turned to stone in that window.

Which story is true?

We don’t know.

More stories like this are on Florence & Me Podcast

I love these stories so I'll be sharing as many as I can.


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