Author: Gayane Simonyan
San Miniato or Saint Minas/Minias (Italian: Miniato, Armenian: Մինաս) is worshipped as the first Christian martyr of Florence. According to the legend he was either an Armenian prince or a king who was serving in the Roman Army or else making a penitential pilgrimage to Rome, and who had decided to become an eremit near Florence.
Not far from Piazzale Michelangelo, a famous touristic square from where you can admire the whole magnificent panorama of Florence, you will see San Miniato al Monte church (St Minias on the Hill) - a basilica in Florence, central Italy, standing atop one of the highest points in the city, one of the most authentic Romanesque churches in Tuscany.
This church was named after him as means of showing respect and devotion.
Later, about forty kilometers away from the church, a small town and comune in the province of Pisa, in the region of Tuscany got the name of the same Saint, San Miniato.
By 1347 the town of San Miniato was under Florentine control, but from 1367-1370, instigated by Pisa, it rebelled against Florence, and for another brief period between 1777 and 1779 during the Napoleonic conquest.
The story of Saint Minas and his life was quite tough. He refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods and was put through series of tortures like once he was thrown into a fireplace, another time he was stoned and was thrown to a lion or a leopard at an amphitheater from which he could survive unscathed. Afterall he was decapitated/ beheaded near Piazza della Signoria, but according to the legend he picked up his own head, crossed the Arno and walked up the hill of Mons Florentinus to his hermitage.
It was on top of the grave of the Christian martyr Saint Minas where the church of San Miniato al Monte was built. After the Roman emperor Decius issued a decree for the prohibition of Christianity in 250, Minias was beheaded and buried on a hill in East Oltrarno, across the river from the Florence city centre.
The construction of the church started in 1018. Later the conservation of the church was financed by the Calimala guild, wool and cloth tradesman, due to the statue on top of the church's forehead which demonstrates an eagle standing on a bag with wool: the symbol of this wealthy guild. The facade constructed in 1090, has a beautiful pattern of colored marble: the pattern of white and green marble would later be emulated on the baptistery and cathedral of Florence. The mosaic part of the facade was done later in the 13th century and that is the depicture of Christ with Maria and St. Minas.
If you enter the church you can find a similar mosaic, made in 1297, on the ceiling of the apsis. You will also see the marble floor, from 1207, that is decorated with zodiac signs.
The oldest part of the church is the crypt and the high altar that presumably contains the bones of St Minias himself.