San Miniato al Monte, Florence
A short walk up from the Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence brings the visitor to the square in front of San Miniato al Monte, with another superb view over the city. The church and monastery provide very good examples of the Romanesque Tuscan architecture of the late 11th and 12th centuries, showing the closeness of the links to Classical Roman in its exterior and interior.The name commemorates St Minias, who died a martyr in Florence around 250 A.D.. The monastery church was built over his grave, probably around 1018 or 1013. It was not actually completed until the early 13th century and originally belonged to Benedictine nuns, but between 1373 and 1552 was used by Olivetan monks, as it is today.
San Miniato al Monte Map
Address: Monte alle Croci, I-50100 Florence, Italy
Opening hours: Apr 1 to Oct 14: 8am-7:30pm
Oct 15 to Mar 31: 8am-1pm, 2:30pm-6pm
Oct 15 to Mar 31: 8am-1pm, 2:30pm-6pm
Entrance fee: FREE
Transit: Bus: 13.
San Miniato al Monte Highlights
Cappella del Crocifisso
Michelozzo's barrel-vaulted Cappella del Crocifizzo (1448) in the nave was commissioned by Piero de Medici. On the back wall is an altarpiece by Agnolo Gaddi (ca. 1396) showing scenes from the martyrdom of St Minias. It is interesting to see how the proud donor has set his stamp everywhere in this relatively small space. Piero's sign was a ring with an uncut diamond (symbolic of durability and toughness) and a bunch of feathers. These emblems are reproduced throughout the frieze and in the bronze screen. The back is embellished with an eagle, symbol of the guild, indicating that the guild was the builder and Piero de Medici was only reluctantly allowed to show that he was the donor. The coffered ceiling is in glazed terracotta, its light-blue and white coloring identifying it as the work of Renaissance artist Luca della Robbia.
The monastery church's impressive interior is of unusually harmonious proportions, with its decorative wall inlay, and takes the form of an early Christian basilica with alternating columns and pillars dividing nave and two aisles, lacking a transept but with a splendid timbered roof (repainted in the 19th century). The raised choir, traditionally over the grave of St Minias, originally allowed the entering pilgrim a direct view into the crypt and sight of the bones of the saint, but this is now blocked by the Renaissance tabernacle.Although San Miniato is basically a medieval Romanesque church building it is furnished with two outstanding examples of Renaissance art, Michelozzo's Cappella del Crocifisso at the end of the nave, and the Chapel of the Cardinal of Portugal, added on the left aisle and by Antonio Manetti with sculpture by Rossellino.
Cappella del Cardinale di Portogallo
The chapel of the Cardinal of Portugal (Cappella del Cardinale di Portogallo), on the left aisle, was commissioned by the Portuguese King Alfons V as a monument to his nephew, and built by Manetti between 1461 and 1466, very much on the lines of Brunelleschi's Old Sacristy for San Lorenzo. The decor brings together Christian and Classical concepts, with Antonio Rossellino's sarcophagus recalling a Roman Mithraic sacrifice, but decorated with putti and angels. The recumbent figure of the deceased is aligned with the empty judge's throne opposite as a warning of the Last Judgment. This monument, in its entirety, should be regarded a forerunner of Michelangelo's sarcophagi in the New Sacristy of San Lorenzo. The terracotta sculpture (Holy Ghost, four cardinal virtues) is by Luca della Robbia.
The massive Palazzo dei Vescovi, to the right of the church, was begun by Bishop Andrea dei Mozzi in 1295 and completed by his successor Antonio d'Orso in 1320. It served the Bishops of Florence as their summer residence, high above the city, until it became part of the monastery in 1534. Subsequently also used as a military hospital, a Jesuit college and, on occasions, for concerts, it is now back in the hands of the Olivetans.The popes often spent long periods in Florence. Pope Stephen IX died here (buried in the church of Santa Reparata). His successor, Nicholas II, had previously been Bishop of Florence, an office which he retained.
The gleaming white and green facade (ca. 1100), with its triangular gable, is clad with marble panels which, with the great Romanesque-Roman arches, articulate the facade in geometric patterns of squares, rectangles, circles, etc. in various combinations. On the upper story there is a late 13th century mosaic of Christ between the Virgin and San Miniato. The gable is topped by a gilded eagle with a pack of wool in its claws, symbolizing the wealthy clothmerchants' guild, long-term patrons of San Miniato.
Presbytery and Apse
The late 12th century marble pulpit and choir screen, rich with decoration, are among the late Romanesque highlights of the church.The mosaic in the apse of Christ Pantocrator flanked by the Virgin and St Miniato shows considerable Byzantine influence, and dates originally from 1297 but has since been considerably restored, and was totally renewed in the late 19th century.
After the old Campanile collapsed in 1499 a new one was begun in 1518 but never entirely completed. In the troubled times of the early 16th century it served the Florentines, including Michelangelo, as defense against the troops of the Emperor.
Cimitero delle Porte Sante
Work on the cemetery, the Cimitero delle Porte Sante, was begun in 1857 in accordance with the plans of Nicola Matas, and it is the burial ground for many famous people from the late 19th century.
Steps on the right and left of the Capella del Crocifisso lead down into the hall crypt which has seven aisles with groin vaults and frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi depicting Saints and Prophets.
The sacristy, reached from the right hand side below the apse, contains Spinello Aretino's masterpiece, his "Life of St Benedict" (post 1387). A doorway in the sacristy leads to the cloister with frescoes by Andrea del Castagno and Paolo Uccello.
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