Saturday, May 31, 2014

The long(er) way to the top: San Miniato

On Wednesday, May 28 Dave and I took the beautiful, mild and breezy weather for a sign that we needed to get up to San Miniato al Monte (St. Minias on the Mount), a church we did not visit during our last Florentine sojourn. The weather got too hot too quick and the climb seemed Herculean. So this time the Fates were with us except for the fact that, being absent-minded and a bit too excited to get there, I left the map of Florence at home. I know the city well and I thought after all this time I'd just know how to get to San Miniato, but alas we took the long way around. Happily our circuitous path showed us an area of Florence, south of the old city walls that I don't think I've ever seen. Below are some photos with captions from this pleasant detour.

Above: Our approach to the Porta San Giorgio, the oldest standing gate in Florence's defensive medieval city wall. Note the fresco of the Virgin and Child above the opening (and the trash bins beyond--a jarring reminder people do actually live in this idyllic place.)

Below: The other side of the gate bearing the identifying relief of St. George slaying the Dragon. The fleur-di-lies of Florence is below. 

We're heading back down the hill so we can pick up the avenue to Monte alle Croci, where San Miniato sits. During this little jaunt we passed by the house in which Galileo discovered the moons of Jupiter. Below is the plaque identifying the house and its famous nature.

Finally, we begin our leg busting, stair-climbing ascent in earnest on the "ramp." (These people look happy b/c they are coming down!)

Great views though, and my lunch of caprese and prosciutto was melting off as we walked uphill!

Almost there...only 1/8 of the climb left, but all stairs.

Finally. The first payoff is an unparalleled view of Florence.

The second is a look inside Florence's oldest preserved church. San Miniato's crypt dates to the mid-11th C. and contains the bones of Saint Minias a 3rd C. saint who after suffering many tortures emerged unharmed and was finally beheaded under Roman imperial orders in the center of Florentia (Roman Florence). According to his legend he then picked up his head and walked to this hill, where his bones are now ensconced in the crypt's altar and visible. The inside of the church is a fantastic example of the Tuscan Romanesque style of architecture, which is characterized by forms common in ancient Roman architecture, such as arches and the classical Greek Orders. In this case, the Corinthian capitals come from actual ancient Roman buildings and are therefore, spolia, or salvaged architectural elements. Note how they do not match one another as you look down the nave (this center space).

Also, note the gorgeous floor, which looks a bit like a quilt and is filled with symbolism. (I'm about to learn how much with a new book I bought at the church gift shop!)

The church is quite small by Florentine standards, which is perhaps one of the reasons it feels so intimate. The other is no doubt its out of the way positioning on a hill that many people don't find worth climbing (note the empty pews in the photo below). As a result, the structure is quiet and provides a cool, meditative respite from the hordes of tourists that are beginning to fill Florence's central streets by the (cruise) ship-full.

Above is a view back towards the entrance. The distinctive green and white geometric designs decorating the walls are typical of the Tuscan Romanesque and found on several buildings of the period from this region of Italy, including the Florentine baptistery.

Here's an up close view of the church's high altar. The windows are covered with very thin sheets of alabaster, which are designed to soften and filter the light, making it diffuse. The ceiling or apse decoration is mosaic made from small pieces of cut glass set in mortar at slightly varying angles to reflect the maximum amount of that diffuse light.

The layers of history at San Miniato al Monte are also extremely fascinating. For example take these frescoes from the 14th and 15th C. which are layered. The large figure to the right is St. Christopher. Observe the person standing below for a sense of scale!

Although we didn't hear them during this visit, I have been here when the monks in residence sang Vespers, a truly ethereal experience. And, yes--speaking of history--it still contains a monastic community. Some of its members run the gift shop, which sells their own brand of vin santo and gelato, marketed by said monks as the "best in the world." We'll have to confirm that on a later visit...stay tuned.

1 comment:

  1. This is beautiful! And edifying! And stimulating! And David Holian now has some serious blisters and is complaining about mysterious moving pains through his lower extremities due to the, ahem, short cut.