Savonarola was troubled by the vice and sin in his city of Florence. He cried against gambling, of fine clothes and jewelry and luxuries of all sorts. He denounced the works of famous artists, who painted immodestly dressed people. He is most famous for the Bonfire of Vanities in 1497 in which he had gaming tables, cards, carnival masks, mirrors, ornaments, nude statues and indecent books burned in the street.
As you can imagine, not everyone was happy about this. The Borgia pope, Pope Alexander VI became increasingly angry at Savonarola, especially when Savonarola preached against the waste and vice of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Alexander VI was known to have mistresses and fathered several children. He acknowledged this and didn’t care who knew it.
Alexander eventually banned him from further preaching. Savonarola obeyed, for a few months, but then he defied the pope and resumed his sermons, which increased in fervor against the sins in the church.
Pope Alexander VI eventually became tired of hearing the preaching of Savonarola, and sentenced him to death. The method of execution was burning at the stake. A priest standing nearby asked Savonarola what he felt about this approaching martyrdom. His reply? ‘The Lord has suffered as much for me.”
Though he died in 1498, his ideas were picked up by the early reformers. Martin Luther read some of the friar’s writings and praised him as a martyr and forerunner whose ideas on faith and grace anticipated Luther’s own doctrine of justification by faith alone.