Before you enter this early Romanesque church, you are first struck by the view from the church. Set on a hill on the other side of the Arno River, the view is magnificent – it overlooks the city of Florence with the Cathedral set in the center. This is one of the places to get that classic Florence photograph that you often see with the Cathedral in it. Not far from this church is the Piazzale Michelangelo, which is a large area that many tourists go to capture this view and locals go to for the same reason. Here at San Miniato, there are fewer crowds and the same magnificent view. Spend some time here just admiring the city. We went in the late afternoon so before we went into the church we saw the city in the daylight, but by the time we came out, night had arrived and Florence was all in lights. Breathtaking!
As you look at the outside façade of this Benedictine church, you will see a mosaic with Christ, Mary, and Saint Minias, a Benedictine monk. There is an eagle at the top – he is clutching a bale of wool. This tells us that the wool merchants’ guild paid for the church. Saint Minias is said to have been beheaded, picked up his head and hiked up the hill to where the church is now established.
Once inside, there are lots of things to see related to Renaissance art.
In the center of the nave heading up the aisle, there is an area that shows the zodiac – strange to see in a Catholic Church, right? At this point in time, however, the zodiac was not banned by the church.
Ahead of you, you will see the crypt is actually below the altar, typical in Medieval churches.
Go into the Sacristy – as you walk towards the altar, it will be the room on the far right side. This is the room where the priests would prepare the mass. It is difficult to see as the room is dark – so put €1 in the machine in the corner of the room and the lights will come on for a short time so you can view the frescoes.
These frescoes were commissioned after the plague (1348) ravaged Florence – they were a sort of thank you for taking the plague away. The paintings, done by Spinello Arentino, depict the life and miracles of St. Benedict. Look closely and you will see demons in the form of little black flying things - in one of the frescoes Benedict is wrestling with a demon who he just exorcised from another person. While the architecture in the paintings is not yet to scale, these demonstrate the start of a new area in artwork and the use of buildings to create spatial boxes and an illusion of depth. On the ceiling you will find paintings of the four Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).
As you leave the Sacristy, walk straight out and look up at the apse (the round area at the end of the altar) and see the magnificent mosaic of Christ. Once again you find Mary and Saint Minias, symbols of the four evangelists (angel, lion, cow, eagle), and if you look close on the left side, you will find the patron who paid for the mosaic. This mosaic shimmers and glimmers in the light!
In the center of the nave, between the seats and the altar, is a smaller altar from the Medici family, marked by the Medici diamond (the eagle is clutching it) and the wool guild symbol (bale of wool).
On the other side of the church (opposite side as the Sacristy) is a small chapel to honor a Portuguese cardinal that died in Florence. Uniquely, all the artists (sculptor, painter, floors, etc.) all worked together instead of separately on this project. Rossalino sculpted the tomb and Polliauolou painted the central painting (this is actually a copy – the real one is in the Ufizzi). As with the Sacristy, you will need to pay for the lights if you want to see this art better. The machine is to the right of the chapel.
You can head down into the crypt or explore the cemetery outside the church.
We took the Number 12 (or 13 – either one works) bus up to almost the top of the hill and walked a little farther to find the church. You can also walk from the Piazza Michelangelo – it takes about five minutes. There is no charge to enter to the church – just if you want to use the lights.
Because this is a less famous church and is farther away from the city center, it is not as crowded as other places you will visit. And the view is worth the visit!
Easter to early October - Summer: 8:00am - 7:30pm
Winter 8:00am 12:30pm and 3:00pm - 6:00pm
When we first arrived at San Minato, it was late afternoon and the sun was still shining, giving us the chance for some great photos of the city of Florence with the Duomo in the center. After our tour of the church, the sun had set and we were able to see the city with its lights on. So different, yet each so beautiful. We headed over to the nearby Piazzale Michelangelo to enjoy the view.
While you're in Piazzele Michaelangelo, if you haven't climbed your last, keep walking a little farther to San Minato al Monte. Florence's finest Romanesque Church affords you even better views of the city as well as some marvelous mosaics and frescoes. An interesting cemetary is found on the grounds.
When we walked into the beautiful church a choir was practicing. The impression it left on us was very special.
San Miniato romanesque church is wonderful: the Benedictines monks who live there sing Gregorian chants during late-afternoon vespers, and the public is invited to listen.
Winter: Vespers at 16.30
Summer: Vespers at 17.30
The present structure of San Miniato al Monte dates from 1018, owing it to Bishop Hildebrand. First, however, it was built as a chapel in the 4th century. In the upper part of the facade there is a fine 12th century mosaic with Christ between the Madonna and San Miniato. Inside the church there are valuable 13th and 14th century frescoes, while the altar preserves the bones of San Miniato.
The 16th century Forte di Belvedere or Forte San Giorgio, was commissioned to Buontalenti by Ferdinando I, dominates the city and the river of Arno. Inside the fortress there is Palazzetto which is used for exibitions now.
For a good glimpse of the interior of the church, see the movie "Up at the Villa".
St. Minias (Miniato) was the first Christian martyr in Florence. He became a victim of the Christian persecutions in the middle third-century and was beheaded. According to legend, after his decapitation, he picked up his head, put it back on his shoulders, crossed the Arno and went to die in the cave on Monte alle Croci. That cave is now the location of the church that bears his name.
If you look at the photos I took from the roof of my hotel, you can see the church gleaming off in the distance.
Famous dead person buried here:
Pietro 'Maestro' Annigoni. He was the artist who rendered the 1955 portrait of Queen Elizabeth, which portrait was used on banknotes at the time. He also painted the portraits of many other notables of his time including JFK.
Looking down on the city, the lovely old church of San Miniato al Monte is a renaissance-highlight in Florence. The beautiful façade, which is made of white and green marble, was constructed in the 11th century. In the 15 th century the church was enlarged. San Miniato has a nice little cemetery in the backyard and moreover the view down on Florence is even more amazing than from P. Michelangelo
San Miniato al Monte is a beautiful Romanesque basilica situated on a green hill above the city. The church was built in the 11th century over the shrine of the early Christian martyr San Miniato. The facade has a geometrical design and a mosaic dating from the 13th century of Christ between the Virgin and San Miniato. The interior has fine frescoes and mosaics.
One look at the looooog flight of steps from Piazzale Michelangelo is enough to deter most of the masses - which is a very good reason to make the climb. You’ll be well rewarded with a (serene) look at parts of a 1000 year-old church and one of the best views of Florence. The current structure was built on the site of an even older shrine to St. Minias: a 3rd-century martyr beheaded by Emperor Decius. Just as St. Denis of France - executed the same way, at virtually the same time - picked up his head and wandered off to succumb at the place where a cathedral now stands in his honor, Minias trotted his own noggin up this hill and is said to be buried in the crypt.
That crypt is a formidable forest of columns supporting a low, groin-vaulted ceiling with some rare, 14th-century remnants of fresco attributed to Thaddeo Gaddi, whose work may also be seen in Santa Croce. It’s reached via stairs under an unusual, raised chancel covered with intricate inlays and carvings, some portraying mythical creatures as was common in Romanesque-era churches. Other highlights are an inlaid astrological wheel in the floor, its 12 signs corresponding to the 12 apostles, glorious Renaissance-era chapel, Luca Della Robbia tondi and crucifix, and various other fascinating - and very old - fragments of fresco.
My good VT friend, Leics, was lucky enough to hear a plainsong mass here and tells us that it was positively ethereal. We weren’t as lucky but I’d noted the hours as Sundays at 10:00, 11:30 and 5:50 - although it’s possible you may run into one during the week (around 5:00 PM) as well.
Do take time to stop into the nice little shop where the monks who attend the basilica sell herbal remedies, honey, wine, essential oils, handmade soap, and other goodies as well as the usual postcards and whatnot, and spare some time to explore fascinating Porte Sante cemetery at the end of your visit.
Click the website below for a nice virtual tour of the basilica.
Porte Santa means “Holy Gates”- an appropriate name for a place to inter individuals who’ve been dispatched to St Peter’s realm. Not nearly as old as the ancient basilica it surrounds, it occupies a space enclosed by defensive walls engineered by Michelangelo in 1529 to convert the hilltop into a fortress during the Siege of Florence. Established in 1839, the cemetery is the resting place of some notables including the family tombs of the Vespucci and Stibberts, and Carlo Collidi: creator of Pinocchio.
Most of the celebs buried here will be familiar only to Italians but it’s enough to drink in the panoramas of Florence stretching below and to wander the maze of elaborate mausoleums and monuments. Tragic, mournful, stately and even amusing, they are interesting studies for the camera in a space largely free of other tourists. Most macabre was the likeness of a child, her face expressionless and veiled in death, rising beyond the reach of a small sister’s beseeching hands.
San Miniato is my favourite church in Florence. It's perfect examples of Florentine Romanesque architecture, characterized by its bicoloured (white and green) marble fa?ade. The current building began to take shape in 1013 and mostly perserved it's original character. San Miniato is a three-naved basilica and has wodden roof. The interior has a few Renaissance additions, but they blend in well with the overall medieval aspect with beautifull frescoes. When I visited it only few other tourist was there so I could really enjoy in peace and bauty of this sacre place.
Palazzo dei Vescovi or the Bishops' Palace stands on the right and could be visited also.
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