BASILICA OF SAN MINIATO AL MONTE

Last Sunday I spent the afternoon traveling on foot to San Miniato. I also stopped along the way at the Piazzale Michelangelo, which sits high above the city. The views are just incredible! Form this point you can see all of Florence and the surrounding Tuscan countryside.

I traveled out of the city center and across the Arno and entered the San Niccolo area. This part of town is low key with an “artsy” flare. There are many nice restaurants (even found a Jamaican Disco), beautiful homes, and some art studios. There is a very interesting mixed media atelier d’arte called La Bottega Del Presepe. Inside the studio were bits and pieces of religious artifacts, old photos, doll parts, and found objects. All of these parts had been reassembled into unique works of art.

It was a beautiful day that was not too hot and was also a great workout!

The fa├žade of San Miniato is made of white and green marble dating from the 11th / 13th centuries, typical of the Romanesque style in Tuscany. On this site bishop Ildebrando found remnants of bone under the “holy gate”, in what is believed to be Florence’s first Christian cemetery. When entering through the basilica portal, which signifies for Florence the “gate of heaven”, the floor is covered in a geometric pattern of marble mosaic executed in 1207. There is a stunning zodiac with a stylized image of the sun at the center. This two color marble mosaic leads to the 15th century altar that was designed by Michelozzo. Inside of the church is the Chapel of the Cardinal of Portugal, built between 1461 and 1466. He was a Lusitanian clergyman who died at a young age in Florence in 1459. His body is in a marble tomb that has elaborate sculptures of angels, the Virgin Mary, and baby Jesus. Antonio and Bernardo Rossellino sculpted all of the figures. There are large frescos by Spinello Aretino painted with a narrative style typical of the Giotto tradition.

The church is lit mainly with natural light, and lots of candles. It is clear that not much has changed over the years at San Miniato. You feel like you are stepping back in time, when you hear the Benedictine monks (who still live there on the hill) begin their daily celebration of Vespers and Eucharist with Gregorian chant that fill the one thousand year old basilica.

Walking out of the doors of this impressive structure, you are presented with a breathtaking view of the skies of Florence. On the hillside, at that location, you can almost reach out and touch the clouds.
-J.R.