SAN MINIATO AL MONTE BASILICA, FLORENCE ITALY- Saint Minias was the first evangelizer and Christian martyr in Florence. The story states that he was a Greek merchant or Armenian prince who came on pilgrimage to Rome. Around 250 AD he arrived in Florence to live as a hermit. Persecuted, Minias was beheaded by Emperor Decius. Legend dictates that afterward, the Saint picked up his head and put it back on his shoulders to go die in the cave he had been living in. This is the current location of San Miniato al Monte Basilica in Florence Italy.
Just across the Arno from the city center, San Minato al Monte was constructed at the request of Bishop Hildebrand in 1018 on the same site as the fourth century chapel. The hill of Monte alle Croci holds the Bishop's Palace, fortifications, cemetery, and the Basilica. The Bishop's Palace would later become a convent, hospital and a Jesuit house. From atop the hill, the visitor has the wide expanse of Florence and Piazzale Michelangelo below. The Benedictine monks ran the Basilica and then the Olivetan friars took over in 1373 and they still run the Basilica.
Representations of the zodiac and symbolic animals are within the marble inlays in the center of San Miniato. Walls from the 13th and 14th centuries show us the artistry of frescoes, and the altar itself holds the relics and remains of the Patron Saint of Florence. Within the crypt, you can find more frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi. Choir stalls with elegant woodwork complement the beauty of the pulpit from 1207. Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the Saints were installed in 1296 as a mosaic piece in the conch of the apse while at the entrance to the Sacristy you will find a fresco by Spinello Areinto depicting the stories of St. Benedict. The Holy Spirit and the Cardinal Virtues are also part of the history of this Romanesque Basilica within the terra cotta dome. All of this splendor welcomes you through its white and green facade. This is one of the very few ancient churches still standing.
The history of Florence of course does not always come up roses. There have been quite a lot of skirmishes and wars that have blown through Italy. The unfinished bell tower stands testament to one such war. In 1530, Charles V and Medici Pope Clement VII sent troops and laid siege to the newly declared Republic of Florence to reinstate the Medici dukes. San Miniato al Monte was a prime fortress on top of her hill, and was bombarded relentlessly. Michelangelo was actually in charge of the defense of the Basilica. He took timber and cobbling and threw it up against the bell tower to deter soldiers from climbing it. To protect it from the force of cannon balls, Michelangelo suspended mattresses from the sides to absorb the shock. He would spend his days up on the hill until the skirmish ended.
Visit the place of ancient longing and hear the echoes of Gregorian Chants and perhaps you can even catch a wisp of incense from vespers. The fortitude of San Miniato al Monte Basilica in Florence Italy is resilient and ready to greet another ten thousand years of faithful fellowship. Whether you are on pilgrimage or a student of art and history, the Basilica is watching out over the Valley, awaiting your arrival.
As previously mentioned, the church is in the oltrano across the bridge from the Uffizi and is quite a hike. To walk there you have to be in fairly good condition as it a long and fairly steep journey. Taking a cab both ways is less strenuous and the fare isn't likely to break you. Try to time your visit towards the late afternoon as you can walk over to Piazzale Michelangelo to witness one of the most amazing sunsets in the world.
San Miniato Information:
Address-Via Del Monte alle Croci/ Viale Galileo Galilei (behind Piazzale Michelangelo).
Visiting Hours- Easter to early Oct. daily 8:am-noon and 2pm-7pm. Winter 8am-noon and 2:30pm-6pm.
Bus Line- 12, 13
***Just a side note about attire for women in all Basilicas and Cathedrals. You will not be allowed to enter if you have bare shoulders or wearing shorts! Bring a shawl or long sleeve shirt with you.***
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