Italian Church Pairs Perfume With Prayer

Opened in Dante's time, pharmacy today sells scents in LA, Tokyo
By Harry Kimball,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 20, 2008 1:00 PM CST
Santa Maria Novella, in Florence.   (Magnum Photos)
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(Newser) – Florence's Santa Maria Novella church has an intriguing sideline: It's home to one of the world's oldest pharmacies, which today churns out tonics and perfumes made according to medieval recipes. Smithsonian profiles the church, where Dominican monks began concocting herbal remedies and rose water, used to clean plague-touched homes, more than 600 years ago; today their wares are sold from New York to Tokyo.

The pharmacy has seen its fair share of Florentine intrigue, crafting signature scents for Catherine de' Medici and dealing with pious monks uneasy with its success. Though ownership was transferred to a monk's lay nephew in 1866, the pharmacy remains tucked in the church's frescoed rooms—and beyond. "Vinegar of the Seven Thieves," along with some 40 colognes, sells internationally.