Girolamo Savonarola was an Italian priest and the ruler of Florence from 1494 until 1498. Despite the fact that he lived his entire life as a devout Catholic, he is seen as the precursor to the Protestant Reformation due to the way that he challenged Pope Alexander VI and fought for reform within the Church.
Savonarola rose to the world stage upon arriving in Florence in 1490 and preaching highly popular sermons warning of the imminent end of the world. Savonarola maintained that he had visions from God and the Saints and challenged the Medici family that had been in power in Florence.
After Charles VIII of France took Florence in 1494 and drove out the Medici, Savonarola was given power over the city. Savonarola wasted no time in establishing his brand of militant Catholicism in Florence in an attempt to make the city a virtual theocracy. He immediately made homosexuality a crime punishable by death. He had mass burnings in the Piazza della Signoria where books, mirrors, fine clothing and artwork by such masters as Michelangelo and Botticelli were burned in what became known as the "Bonfire of the Vanities."
Florence quickly became a miserable place to live under Savonarola's rule. He was excommunicated, or kicked out of the Church, by Alexander and then arrested by his men in 1498. Savonarola was forced to confess to crimes of heresy and corruption.
On May 23, Savonarola and two of his followers were brought to the Piazza della Signoria where they had burnt the paintings and books, and burned alive at the stake in front of the people of the city. The monumental event is captured in Niccolo Machiavelli's, The Prince.