San Miniato al Monte

Giovanni Stradano Palazzo Vecchio 1558      La Veduta della Catena
San Minato al Monte       Siege of Florence google art project 

Giovanni Stradano 'Siege of Florence' Palazzo Vecchio 1558

San Minato al Monte remote view       Aerial

San Minato al Monte remote view Florence
photos: Sailko and aerial: Neil

St. Miniatus

As we can gather from its name, the church was built atop a hill. The location was not entirely incidental if we go by the stories. St. Minias (or St. Miniatus)  was executed in 250 AD by command of Roman emperor Decius. His saintly head rolled from his shoulders, but lo and behold: Minias simply gathered up his own head and walked up the Mons Florentinus. This is where he uttered the memorable words: this is where I want to be buried. A church was built around his grave in the third or fourth century. In 1018, bishop Hildebrand ordered to have the church rebuilt. The bones of Minias (or Miniatus) lie beneath the altar in the crypts. 

St. Miniatus painting
Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht

The crypt

San Miniato al Monte: crypt
photo: Rufus47

San Minato al Monte

It would take another two centuries for the church to be completed. Although the church is of Roman design, many in the Renaissance believed it to be a truly classic building. This applied similarly to the Baptistery of Florence.

The stairs

The stairs San Miniato al Monte
photo: jean louis maziere

San Miniato al Monte

San Miniato al Monte facade
photo: Rufus46

Facade of the San Miniato al Monte

Facade San Miniato       Upper part

Facade San Miniato  al Monte
photo upper part: Charles JACQUES

The facade of the San Miniato, like the back wall at the apse, has five blind arches with similar panels.


San Minato al Monte: Apse interior

The facade, too, like in the church, makes heavy use of multi-coloured marble. Not entirely unsurprising given how the city has many marble quarries nearby. The high centre-piece of the facade reflects the high nave and covers three blind arches. Behind the two outer most arches are the aisles. The bottom part of the facade has a clear horizontal accent and is closed off with an entablature.

The Eagle

Above it, in the centre, a square rises up showing an aedicula around a window. Above this window is a mosaic. Naturally, this mosaic from circa 1260 depicts St. Minias next to Mary and Christ. The facade is crowned with an eagle. It was the guild’s symbol, the Calimala, which since 1228 supervised the construction of this church.

San Miniato al Monte: Eagle
Photo: Benjamín Núñez González

Triangles with coloured marble mark the transition from the low aisles to the higher centre-part. This is akin to what Alberti would later apply to the Santa Maria Novella, namely volutes. The centre has a triangular closure: a pediment divided into planes and with different colour marble inlays. The part in the middle of the facade above the three blind arches is an interpretation of a classic temple pediment. Like the interior, the facade has a rather classic look to it. But at closer inspection you will see a number of statues at the facade, including gargoyles, that reveal the Roman nature of this church. In addition, there are a number of mistakes that a classical architect would never make. For instance, as with the Baptistery, the architrave has been curved to the left and right of the mosaic. Moreover, the recesses at the lower part of the fluting in the pilasters have been filled up. In Antiquity, this was only done on the ground floor to protect the vulnerable area where the two recesses convene. The height at which it is applied in the facade of the San Miniato makes it a meaningless endeavour.

Despite these shortcomings, Vasari speaks positively about the San Miniato al Monte in his preface of The Lives. After the decline of the Roman empire and the rise of the dark ages, art became a derelict pastime, but this church was a positive development.

“Subsequently, in 1013, when the Florentine Alibrando was bishop of Florence, it was evident by the restoration of the splendid San Miniato that art had regained some of its former glory; after all, aside from the marble ornaments, both inside and outside the church, it is evident by the facade that Tuscan architects made all the effort to keep the doors, windows, columns, arches and cornices in line with classical building, which they had partially recognised in the very old house of god of San Giovanni [Baptistery]  in their own city.” Translated from: Giorgio Vasari, ‘De Levens van de grootste schilders, beeldhouwers en architecten Van Cimabue tot Giorgione’, Contact, Amsterdam, 1990 Deel I blz. 43 (original edition 1568).

Mosaic       In Situ

San Minato al Monte Christ  Madonna and St Miniato', mosaic, c1260
photos: Miles Berry and Allan Parsons

Entrance       In situ

San Miniato al Monte: door entrance
photos: jean louis maziere

Nave Apse        Nave       Other side

San Miniato al Monte:  Nave and apse
photos: jean louis maziere; Kent Wang and side: pushypenguin
San Miniato al Monte: Chapel Cardinal of Portugal
photos: Sailko and zoom: Francesco Gasparetti

Arriving inside the church, you can tell by the layout that it is very orderly with all bays in the nave (and the aisles) being completely equal to each other.

Aisle       Frescos

San Miniato al Monte: aisle
photos: jean louis maziere and frescos: edk7

Nave and apse

Division according to fixed dimensional ratios, which can for example be deduced from the floor pattern. The bay of the aisle is exactly half that of the one in the nave. In the Renaissance, other architects like Brunelleschi will implement this too, as can be seen in the San Lorenzo or the Santo Spirito. The columns at the arcades are not all equal. Some of them are re-used classical columns known as spolia. It has Corinthian but also Byzantine capitals. The columns and pillars alternate in a fixed rhythm: pillar, column, column and pillar.

San Miniato al Monte:  Nave apse
photos: jean louis maziere and nave apse: Kent Wang

Aside from the open timber roof truss, the church uses a lot of marble. The marble in the clerestory was painted in the nineteenth century. It also shows marble in different colours. The inlays of the floor from 1207 include patterns with zodiac signs.

Open timber roof

San Miniato al Monte: ceiling
photos: Sarmale / Olga and Kent Wang
San Miniato al Monte: Michelozzo Ciborium
photos: Kent Wang

Michelozzo Ciborium      Side of the Ciborium
Johann Karl Schultz ‘Blick in das Innere von San Miniato al Monte’

For the altar, Michelozzo designed a ciborium for Piero de Medici in the fifteenth century. Michelozzo used four different columns. Something that fits the tradition of this church.

The five blind arches underneath the conch in the apse appear again in the facade. The church is home to many frescos, including from the thirteenth and fourteenth century by painters like Taddeo Gaddi, but we keep our focus on the architecture.


San Miniato al Monte: Apse detail

We then make our way to the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral of Florence

View from the San Miniato al Monte

View from the San Miniato al Monte
photo: Matteo Vannaci

Continuation Florence day 1: Duomo Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore I