San Miniato al Monte in Florence
The church of San Miniato al Monte is my favorite church in Florence. Full of legends, art and masterpieces is a must see.
Let’s start with a legend … According to the tradition, the martyr Minias (beheaded during the persecutions of Decius in the 3rd century) took his own head and decided to come to die exactly on this hill. That’s why the Bishop Hildebrand wanted to build here, in 1018, the Benedictine monastery that would be finished in 1207, as can be read on the floor as soon as you enter the main door.
The church is a jewel of Romanesque architecture, with all its purest features: wooden ceiling, raised choir and Presbyterian and large crypt with relics of the Holy Minias (who else?).
At San Miniato everything is worth of note, starting with the façade of polychrome marble to continue with the breathtaking view. Wherever you look you won’t be disappointed!
Once inside give yourself time to get used to the dark and then immerge yourself in the holy atmosphere of the church and enjoy the beautiful rhythm and elegance of the massive columns that support such great beauty.
The wooden ceiling is so accurate in its decoration that it deserves to be admired for a long time.
What to say about the fantastic floor that has (in addition to date) geometric decorations together with all the signs of the Zodiac. In the Middle Ages (maybe even now) astrology was a fundamental part of human life (just think that also Galileo Galilei often earned his living making horoscopes!). There are many theories about the reason why such a decoration was chosen. I like to think this: the inlay looks like a carpet that from the front door leads to the altar. On this carpet we can see the representation of a man’s journey that starts outside (Earth) to continue inside to reach God (altar) passing through the sky with the stars and planets (Zodiac).
Just at the end of this marble inlay there is the Chapel of the Crucifix. According to the legend Giovanni Gualberto, the son of a wealthy Florentine merchant, met on the way to San Miniato the man who had killed his brother. He was not carrying any weapon and therefore Gualberto could have easily killed him. Instead he listened to his mercy prayer and forgave him. He arrived at the church of San Miniato and began to pray the crucifix, which nodded the head, clearly approving what he had just done. Giovanni Gualberto converted himself and later founded the order of Vollombrosani and became a Saint. The miraculous crucifix is now in the church of Santa Trinita (belonging to the Vallombrosani) and it has been here replaced with this beautiful Chapel done by Michelozzo and decorated with the precious glazed terracotta by Della Robbia and with the painting by Agnolo Gaddi.
The crypt: admire the many different capitals and columns. Many of these were taken from Roman villas, while others are Romanesque.
The choir and the presbytery is raised above the crypt. Reach this part through the stairs and look from very close the marble inlays: the geometric ones and those of the small animals that are represented. The apse is decorated with a mosaic representing Christ with St. Minias, Mary and the Evangelists. Stay here to enjoy the colors that the Venetian masters were able to display in glazed mosaic tiles: so fascinating! What it especially strikes me is the skilful use of light: look at the one that comes through the window right here only to illuminate the Christ Pantocrator and compare it with the most gentle and warm one coming through the small windows in alabaster.
From this area you can reach the Sacristy that is frescoed by Spinello Aretino (1378) with the stories of the life of St. Benedict. It ‘s a good example of work at the turn of the century exactly in between international Gothic and Renaissance.
The last masterpiece of this church is the Chapel of the Cardinal of Portugal, James of Lusitania. The work is attributed to Rossellino (one of his last works) with the help of Antonio Manetti. In the ceiling there are the virtues by Luca della Robbia and the painting in the central location (original in the Uffizi) is by Pollaiuolo. Please note the railing where three Saints are standing. Look for it in the chapel because the painting takes place here!
This chapel is one of the few examples in Florence of Renaissance architecture and painting in the same place.
So get ready for a long, nice walk to the church or ask at the reception of Hotel Kursaal & Ausonia where bus stop No. 12 is.