San Miniato al Monte located in Florence is a monument to the antique presence of the Armenians in Western Europe. Traditionally, Miniato or Minas was an Armenian prince serving in the Roman army under the command of Emperor Trajan Decius (c. 201 – 251 AD). Minas had initially been wealthy, unsympathetic, and wasteful. But he then reconsidered his life choices and become a hermit living in a cave.
In 250, Decius decided to reinforce his power and announced the mandatory rites dedicated to his genius (in Roman mythology, a divine nature present in every person or thing). Disobedient Christians would be oppressed, and many of them would be imprisoned or executed.
Minas, who had recently adopted Christianity, was captured and after refusing to do any sacrifices to Roman deities was thrown in a cage with wild animals. According to the tradition, the animals refused to harm Minas, so the Romans beheaded him.
The martyr picked up his own head and put it back on its place, crossed Arno River, and walked to his hermitage to soon meet his death. According to contemporary Christian beliefs, an individual was unable to be resurrected if he had been decapitated as the body needed to maintain its integrity.
At the site of Minas’ death, a chapel would be erected in the 4th century. In the early 11th century, a church was also built nearby.
Standing atop the hill Monte alle Croci, San Miniato al Monte is considered one of the most beautiful churches of Florence. The position of the church allows it to dominate over the whole city beneath. From the site of the church, an unforgettable scene of Arno River, the Giotto Tower, Palazzo Vecchio opens. The peaceful environs of the church rarely see any tourists due to its hard-to-reach position.
The view of the basilica itself is also striking. In the late evening, the church’s colorful façade with its mosaics and green and white marble reflect the sunlight, making the church shine like a chest of treasures.
The church has three levels: a wide and large crypt; three naves decorated with 12th – 14th-century frescos and floors paved with a mosaic with astrological signs and mythological animals; and a chancel. Above the main altar can be seen a beautiful 13th-century mosaic depicting Jesus sitting on a throne with the Mother of God and King of Armenia (Rex Ermenie) to his right and left respectively. Beneath the altar are safeguarded the relics of a saint.
San Miniato al Monte is one of the few basilicas in Florence that were left untouched by Renaissance architects. They only built a new bell tower in the place of the dilapidated old one, as well as adjoined a large white-marble staircase to the church.
A Benedictine monastery to this day is headquartered in the basilica: the brethren are helping the sick in hospices, so a monk wearing a white cassock isn’t a rare spectacle in the basilica.
FIRENZE – Basilica di San Miniato al Monte