Have you ever been to San Miniato al Monte? It’s stunning. It’s a spectacularly well-preserved Romanesque church situated high above Florence. It looks likes this:
And it has a view of Florence that looks like this:
And despite the manifest and manifold loveliness of San Miniato al Monte and its spectacular view, hardly anybody goes up there. As I mentioned in a previous post (here: https://brennagraham.wordpress.com/2012/09/12/opposite-views-of-the-city-fiesole-vs-piazzale-michelangelo/) this beautiful, beautiful church is a short, maybe 5 minute walk up from Piazzale Michelangelo. And yet the Piazzale gets the hordes while the church remains nearly empty. Perhaps the monks who are still in residence at San Miniato have made a deal with the travel guides to leave them alone, but it’s a mystery to me. And San Miniato al Monte isn’t just a pretty face, it has pretty insides as well:
and check-out the terribleness of the painted wood ceiling! Who would ever want to look at that?:
The monks at San Miniato still chant at Vespers- anyone can go and listen. I haven’t done it yet, but I plan to very soon. It’s amazing to be able to be in a place and experience a ritual that has been in use for nearly a thousand years. The layers of time and history collapse so easily in Italy. But visualizing, even experiencing the past so completely is rare; even in a place as packed with history as Florence; sometimes it can be difficult to imagine away the cars and modern stores and cell phones and try to picture the old city. But at San Miniato it happens without you barely noticing. It happens as you climb up the steps to look closely at the Medieval pulpit, or peer into the Renaissance tomb chapel of an unfortunate, but handsome! cardinal prince, or step down into the crypt where the marble columns remain cool to the touch even on the hottest days and the relics of St. Minias, an early Christian martyr, can be seen (though not photographed).
I forget sometimes when I’m going through these churches, whether as a tourist visitor or on research reconnaissance, that they’re sacred places. I’m not Catholic, so, were it not for my art history degrees, the imagery and stories would be foreign and mostly indecipherable to me. But at San Miniato the holiness and spirituality is so palpable that the air inside the church seems charged with it. It is to say the least, infinitely better than a parking lot.