Often, when tourists (or even Tuscans themselves) hear about San Miniato, they connect it to the Abbey of San Miniato al Monte, a beautiful basilica located in one of the highest hills in Florence.
But it is no coincidence that our city has the same name, this is because they are both connected to the cult of the first Florentine proto-martyr, or San Miniato. As we have already told you in our previous post, Miniato was a martyr who was sentenced to torture during the period of Christian persecutions by the Roman emperor Decius. Legend has it that during his torture many miracles occurred that saved him from certain death, only to be finally beheaded and, once he got up and took his head under his arm, he walked towards Mons Florentinus (place where the abbey stands today) and there he died.
In this place a sanctuary was initially built and later a chapel to contain the relics of San Miniato. Over time, however, the building was abandoned to itself and it was thanks to the Florentine bishop Ildebrando that it was decided to build the current abbey on April 27, 1018.
The exterior of the basilica of San Miniato al Monte
The exterior of the basilica of San Miniato al Monte is one of the most beautiful examples of Florentine Romanesque style and was built around the 11th century: the alternating colors are mainly the white of the Carrara marble and the green of the Prato marble (called also Serpentine) and in the central mosaic there is represented Christ between the Virgin and San Miniato. The bell tower that can be admired on the left, built in 1207, has a decidedly different style and was used during the siege of Florence in 1530 as a warehouse for artillery: being targeted by enemies, the artist Michelangelo Buonarroti was commissioned to create a kind of “mattress” that ran all around (obtained from the union of 1800 bales of wool) to protect it from attacks.
The inside of the church of San Miniato al Monte
Inside, the church of San Miniato al Monte has a particular shape: the choir and the presbytery are raised above the crypt and the latter is the oldest part of the abbey where, according to legend, the bones of San Miniato are kept. Another beautiful place that is inside the abbey is the Chapel of the Cardinal of Portugal, built in memory of Cardinal Giacomo di Luisitania, who died while he was passing through Florence in 1459: the chapel and the funeral sculpture were designed by Antonio and Bernardo Rossellino, some frescoes and the altarpiece (the original is now in the Uffizi Gallery) were made by the brothers Antonio and Piero del Pollaiolo and the glazed terracotta ceiling by Luca della Robbia.
On the floor of the basilica there is still an ancient solstice sundial dating back to 1207 and outside the abbey of San Miniato al Monte there is the beautiful monumental cemetery called Cimitero delle Porte Sante.