For one thing, there are some pretty important people-of-history buried inside: Michelangelo, Galileo, Rossini are buried there (to name but three.) An artist, a scientist, and a composer. The years of their deaths span centuries, Michelangelo in 1564, Galileo in 1642 & 1737 (more on this later), and Rossini in 1868. Because so many famous Italians are buried here, the church has been known as the Temple of the Italian Glories, for these men certainly brought glory to their country. We still celebrate and marvel at their achievements.
The last tomb to mention... even if you don’t know Gioacchino Rossini by name, I bet you’d recognize his music. He wrote 39 operas. The "William Tell Overture" is the theme music to the 1950’s TV show, “The Lone Ranger”, and there was a Bugs Bunny cartoon featuring Rossini’s "Barber of Seville". Surely the composer would turn over in his grave. He was originally buried in Paris, but at the request of the Italian government, his remains were moved to Santa Croce in 1887—nineteen years after his death. Florence wanted to lay claim to this “Italian Mozart.”
Beyond these grand tombs (and there are many more), I was most moved by the gravestones on the floor, grave after grave that we walked upon. Most were worn from the tens of thousands who have visited the church over the centuries. I mentioned to our guide that it felt wrong walking on them, but she said that being walked on, having their graves worn by the masses, was considered part of their penance. Don’t tread on me!