07 April 2008

San Miniato al Monte

On one of the highest points overlooking the city of Florence, the Basilica of San Miniato is usually the first stop we make when we take groups of pilgrims to Italy. After a long coach trip, usually from Rome, it's an ideal spot to get a panoramic glimpse of this gorgeous city.

The story of St. Minas has all the ingredients of one of those first-class stories of the saints -- an Armenian prince serving in the Roman army under the Emperor Decius, who leaves his soldiering to become a hermit, but who is then arrested for being a Christian and is thrown to the wild beasts, but of course the beasts won't attack him and so he's beheaded, and not to be thwarted, Minas picks up his head and walks across the River Arno, as would be expected of any self-respecting saint.

A small shrine was built on this spot in the 8th century, but by the beginning of the 11th century construction on the large church was begun. The wonderful marble façade was started in the late 11th century and finished in the 12th century.

I always enjoy visiting San Miniato because it marks the beginning of what invariably turns out to be a memorable visit to a remarkable city.