Living in Rome, one of my favorite things to do was to visit the ancient apothecary shop Santa Maria Novella. The shop dates back to 1221 when the Dominicans first came to Florence. Upon completing their monastery just outside the Florentine walls, the industrious Dominicans set to work on studying the herbs and vegetation next to their new home. Finding the local herbs to have healing properties, the monks stocked ointments, balms and medicines in their monastic infirmary.
The story continues (in charming Italian to English Translation):
In 1612 the monk Fra Angiolo Marchissi opened the pharmacy to the public, earning in this way, from the Grand Duke of Tuscany who had taken note of “such apothecary talent” the right for the dispensary to bear the honorable title o “His Royal Highness’s firm”. So the Domenicans officially started their commercial activity selling their curative and ephemeral products directly. Thus the Officina Profumo - Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella (Perfume and Pharmaceutical Oficine of Holy Mary Novella) was born with an emblematic name that gave precedence to perfume or the ephemeral rather than the curative aspect of more spiritual inspiration, the medicinal or pharmaceutical. In any case this seemed to have been the shrewd move, if it is true that the first “testimonial” of the Dominican brand was Caterina de’ Medici, the Florentine noblewoman who was crowned Queen of France for whom the friars created the essence that was known as Acqua della Regina – Water of the Queen, today named Water of Santa Maria Novella.
While living in Rome, I purchased a soap dish and a mug that I still use today ). Friends gifted me some candles, which are rich and entrancing.
Today, Santa Maria Novella is a thriving enterprise with stores around the world. There is, however, nothing like visiting their maiden store on the edge of Piazza Navonna to marvel at the beauty of their products, Breathe in their scents, and imagine what the walls would say if they could talk.