High atop a hill, its gleaming white-and-green facade visible from the city below, San Miniato is one of the few ancient churches of Florence to survive the centuries virtually intact. The current building began to take shape in 1013, under the auspices of the powerful Arte di Calimala guild, whose symbol, a bronze eagle clutching a bale of wool, perches on the facade. This Romanesque facade is a particularly gorgeous bit of white Carrara and green Prato marble inlay. Above the central window is a 13th-century mosaic of “Christ Between the Madonna and St. Miniato” (a theme repeated in the apse).
The interior has a few Renaissance additions, but they blend in well with the overall medieval aspect—an airy, stony space with a raised choir at one end, painted wooden trusses on the ceiling, and tombs interspersed with inlaid marble symbols of the zodiac paving the floor.
Below the choir is an 11th-century crypt with remains of frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi. Off to the right of the raised choir is the sacristy, which Spinello Aretino covered in 1387 with cartoonish yet elegant frescoes depicting the “Life of St. Benedict”. Off the left aisle of the nave is 15th-century Cappella del Cardinale del Portogallo, a collaborative effort by Renaissance artists built to honor young Portuguese humanist Cardinal Jacopo di Lusitania, who was sent to study in Perugia but died an untimely death at age 25 in Florence.
The Benedictine monks usually celebrate mass here in Gregorian Chant at 5:30pm.
Around the back of the church is San Miniato’s monumental cemetery, one enormous “city of the dead,” whose streets are lined with tombs and mausoleums built in elaborate pastiches of every generation of Florentine architecture (with a marked preference for the Gothic and the Romanesque). It’s a peaceful spot, soundtracked only by birdsong and the occasional tolling of the church bells.