A thousand years of San Miniato al Monte


The Abbey of San Miniato al Monte has just celebrated a thousand years since its foundation!
The church was built in honor of St. Miniato, the first martyr of Florence. He was allegedly an Armenian prince who was passing through Florence around the year 250. After refusing to venerate the roman gods he was persecuted and beheaded by Emperor Decius. Legend has it that the martyr picked up his head, crossed the Arno and walked up the hill of Mons Fiorentinus where he finally collapsed, declaring his willingness to be there buried. On that very spot, in 1018 begun the construction of the present church which was set to become one of the masterpieces of the Tuscan Romanesque.
The beautiful façade, of green and white marble in the Tuscan manner, inspired Florentine builders for centuries, including Filippo Brunelleschi.
On the pediment, a Romanesque mosaic anticipates the much bigger one we will find inside the church.
The interior of the church is rather unusual, with the presbytery and the choir raised on a platform above the great crypt.
The inlaid floor dates back to 1207 and is of particular interest for the decoration with the wheel of the Zodiac at the center, on which, near midday on the summer solstice, the sign of the cancer is illuminated by a ray of sunshine. This phenomenon was rediscovered only recently, in 2011, proving that we still have much to learn from the architectures and art works of the past.
The central inlaid band leads to the center of the nave dominated by the ciborium, commissioned by Piero de’Medici and created by Michelozzo di Bartolomeo, in collaboration with Luca della Robbia and Maso di Bartolomeo.
The chapel was conceived to host the miraculous Crucifix by Giovani Gualberto, later transferred to the church of Santa Trinita in Florence, and the table painted with stories of the Passion of Christ executed between 1394 and 1396 by Agnolo Gaddi.
The area of the apse is dominated by the beautiful mosaic dated 1297, representing the Redeemer between the Virgin and San Miniato with the symbols of the Evangelists, probably by the same anonymous artist who made the one on the façade.
If a wonderful and rich decorative apparatus with multicolored marble, mosaics, frescoes, paintings and ceramics, the presence of an ancient cript underneath the presbytery and that of a beautiful cemetery outside are not enough to satisfy the hungriest tourists, it will certainly be the location that will win their hearts in the end.
San Miniato al Monte is in fact perched on one of the highest points of the city, and the visitors who venture on the steep path leading to it are rewarded with one of the most spectacular panoramic views of Florence.