Basilica di San Miniato al Monte
The Basilica di San Miniato al Monte stands high on a hill in the south of the Oltrarno quarter, just a few minutes walking from Piazzale Michelangelo.
The Basilica is devoted to San Miniato (St. Minias). According to the tradition he was the first evangeliser and martyr in Florence. It is said that San Miniato was a rich Armenian merchant or maybe a nobleman who left his country to make a pilgrimage to Rome. Around 250, he arrived to a hill in Mons Fiorentinus (now south Oltrarno) and stayed there to live as a hermit.
During the systematic anti-Christian persecution of the Emperor Decius (249-251), who decreed to annihilate any rash of Christianity from the Roman territories, St. Minias was beheaded. Legend says that the saint picked up his head, crossed the Arno River and kept on walking until he arrived to the cave located in a hill where he had his austere dwelling.
To honouree him a chapel was there built by the 4th century.
Bishop Alibrando of Florence, lord of Volterra, commissioned around 1010 to an unknown architect to build a Monastery on the same place of the former chapel. The Emperor
Arrigo II himself donated the funds for its construction.
At first it was ruled by the Benedictine Order. In the 11th century, the Monastery passed to the Order of Cluny (the religious exponents of the medieval Gregorian reform who became as well the innovators of the Benedictine Order). By the last decades of the 14th century the Monastery became the Florentine site of the Order of Santa Maria di Monte Oliveto under the rule of St. Benedict.
The Olivetans conducted the Monastery until the 19th century when was dictated the suppression of the religious orders. In the ’70 they returned to the current Basilica which nowadays is conducted by them.
The monks administrate as well a charming shop in close proximity to the Basilica which sells the famed liquors and sweets they produce.
The construction of the façade begun around 1070 and it was concluded in the 13th century.
The impressive geometrical polychromatic marble façade - which is visible from the underneath valley - has the lower part ornamented by delicate arcades while a splendid mosaic in Byzantine art, from the second half of the 13th century, representing Jesus flanked by the Virgin and San Miniato situated over a central window embellish its upper part.
The work of the façade was granted by the Arte di Calimala, by then the Florentine union of cloth’s merchants. In 1288 ca. that merchants union became the responsible of the Basilica’s maintenance. To manifest it openly they commissioned as well the manufacturing of their noted emblem to crown the façade: a majestic bronze eagle with the claws stuck on a bale of wool.
By entering in the Basilica visitors will run into a jewel from the Romanesque architecture, with three naves a high presbytery and a crypt. The naves are divided by columns and every other pilaster. The ceiling is decorated with a polychromatic and singular wooden stuff. The wonderful inlaid marble pavement representing legendary animals and the zodiac symbols is located in the central aisle and comes back from the 13th century.
The Crypt is situated beneath the choir. It occupies a big area closed off by a richly ornamented wrought iron gate from 1340 ca. The Crypt was constructed at the beginning of the 11th century and is divided into seven tiny aisles by thirty eight thin gilded columns embellished by the celebrated Florentine painter Taddeo Gaddi (1300 ca.-1366). The Crypt houses as well some fragments from the wonderful frescoes there painted by him.
The mortal rests of San Miniato are preserved in the High Altar.
The amazing far above the ground presbytery maintains the original impressive pulpit and platform from 1207 ca, as well as the exclusive choir with elegant inlaid wooden choir stalls.
In the cochlea located on the apse there is a big Byzantine art mosaic from 1280 ca. representing Jesus Christ flanked by the Virgin and Saints. It is believed that was created by the same unknown craftsman who made the one located on the façade.
Off to the towered choir there is the Sacristy. It is covered by an outstanding frescoes cycle by the eminent Tuscan painter Spinello Aretino (byname of Spinello di Luca Spinelli, 1350 ca- 1410) representing sixteen episodes from the Life of St. Benedict. Spinello painted that cycle between 1387 and 1388.
On the left there is the wonderful Cappella del Cardinale del Portogallo, which was built to honouree the Cardinal Jaime of Portugal (1455-1459), a young and aristocratic erudite theologize and humanist who died in Florence -to which he was ambassador of Portugal- when he was 26.
The construction of the Chapel was commissioned around 1460 from the talented Florentine mathematician and architect Antonio Manetti (1423-1497). It was ornamented by the famous Florentine sculptor and ceramist Luca Della Robbia (1400-1482) who created five splendid roundels symbolizing the Holy Spirit and the Cardinal Virtues. To the right, dominating the chapel, there is the refined sepulchre of the Cardinal, which was sculptured by the illustrious Tuscan artist Antonio Rossellino (1427-1479).
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Oltrarno Side of Florence
The Cathedrals : Basilica di San Miniato al Monte, Cappella Brancacci
Main Monuments : Palazzo Pitti, Piazzale Michelangelo, Ponte Vecchio
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