The beautiful Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta e San Genesio is the principal church of San Miniato and it’s located in the oldest part of the city, overlooking the square called “Prato del Duomo”.
Probably built around the XII century on a preexisting chapel, was dedicated to Santa Maria and was mentioned around 1194 in a papal edict of Pope Celestino III. At the time it depended by the Parish of San Genesio of Vico Wallari (a village founded by the Lombards) but it was in 1248 that obtained the baptismal font ant the title of San Genesio when the latter was destroyed.
During the stay of the german emperor Henry VI the Tower of Matilde was completed, which was initally inserted in the defensive walls. It was later incorporated into the curch as a bell tower: the singoular name is due to the legend according wich the Gran Duchess Matilde of Canossa was born in the adjacent Palace of Imperial Vicars.
Thanks to the emperor Frederick II the church took on its current structure. The emperor also had great astronomical interests and it’s said that he was the one who inserted 32 ceramic basins on the facade that resemble the Chariots of the Orsa constellations directed towards a white and green star that indicates the polar star. The message would be address to the pilgrim who is oriented by the church and the sky, respectively tha polar stars and the chariots, towards paradise as the final destination of the journey.
In 1622 the church obtained the dignity of Cathedral from Pope Gregory XV when San Miniato became Diocese thanks also to the help of Grand Duchess Maria Maddalena of Austria, wife of Cosimo II de ‘Medici. In the following years and centuries, major restoration works were carried out that made it the current splendor in the Baroque style.
Massacre of the Cathedral of San Miniato
Unfortunately during the Second World War the Cathedral of San Miniato became the scene of a bloody massacre. On July 22, 1944, while the church was crowded with Samminiatesi citizens gathered by the German army, a US artillery shell was thrown inside the cathedral causing the death of 55 people. Inside the church, in the right transept, there is a commemorative plaque in memory of the victims. The Taviani brothers were inspired by this event for their film The Night of San Lorenzo.