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Basilica di San Miniato al Monte

From Academic Kids

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San Miniato al Monte and the Bishop's Palace

The Basilica di San Miniato al Monte (Basilica of St Minias on the Mountain) stands atop one of the highest points in Florence, and has been described as the finest Romanesque structure in Tuscany and one of the most beautiful churches in Italy.

St Minias was Florence’s first martyr, possibly a Greek merchant or an Armenian prince, who left his home to make a pilgrimage to Rome. In about 250, he arrived in Florence and set up home as a hermit. He was beheaded during the anti-Christian persecutions of the Emperor Decius and was then said to have picked up his head, crossed the Arno and walked up the hill of Mons Fiorentinus to his hermitage. A shrine was later erected at this spot and there was a chapel there by the 8th century. Construction of the present church was begun in 1013 by Bishop Alibrando and it was endowed by the Emperor Henry II. It began as a Benedictine monastery, then passed to the Cluniacs and then in 1373 to the Olivetans, who still run it. The monks make famous liquors, honey and tisanes, which they sell from a shop next to the church.

The geometrically patterned marble fašade was probably begun in about 1090, although the upper parts date from the 12th century or later, financed by the Arte di Calimala (cloth merchants’ guild), who were responsible for the church’s upkeep from 1288 (the eagle which crowns the fašade was their symbol). The mosaic of Christ between the Virgin and St Minias was made in 1260. The campanile collapsed in 1499 and was replaced in 1523, although it was never finished. During the siege of Florence in 1530 it was used as an artillery post by the defenders and Michelangelo had it wrapped in mattresses to protect it from enemy fire.

The interior is extremely unusual, with the choir raised on a platform above the large crypt, and has changed little since it was first built. The patterned pavement dates from 1207. The centre of the nave is dominated by the beautiful freestanding Cappella del Crocefisso (Chapel of the Crucifix), designed by Michelozzo in 1448. It originally housed the miraculous crucifix now in Santa Trýnita and is decorated with panels long thought to be painted by Agnolo Gaddi. The terracotta decoration of the vault is by Luca della Robbia.

The crypt is the oldest part of the church and the high altar supposedly contains the bones of St Minias himself (although there is evidence that these were removed to Metz before the church was even built). In the vaults are frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi.

The raised choir and presbytery contain a magnificent Romanesque pulpit and screen made in 1207. The apse is dominated by a great mosaic dating from 1297, is on the same subject as that on the fašade and is probably by the same unknown artist. The crucifix above the high altar is attributed to Luca della Robbia. The sacristy is decorated with a great fresco cycle on the Life of St Benedict by Spinello Aretino (1387).

The Cappella del Cardinale del Portogallo to the left of the nave was built in 1473 as a memorial to Cardinal James of Lusitania, who died in Florence, to which he was Portuguese ambassador, in 1459. His is the only tomb in the church. The chapel was designed by Antonio Manetti and finished after his death by Giovanni Rossellino. The tomb was made by Antonio and Bernardo Rossellino. The chapel decoration is by Alesso Baldovinetti, Antonio and Piero del Pollaiuolo, and Luca della Robbia.

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The Cemetery from the Basilica di San Miniato al Monte by Hans von Bartels

Adjacent to the church is the fine cloister, begun in around 1425, and the fortified bishop’s palace, built in 1295 and later used as a barracks and a hospital. The whole complex is surrounded by defensive walls, originally built hastily by Michelangelo during the siege and in 1553 expanded into a true fortress (fortezza) by Cosimo I. The walls now enclose a large cemetery, the Porte Sante, laid out in 1854. Carlo Collodi, creator of Pinocchio, and the sculptor Libero Andreotti are buried there.

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