severed heads, etc.


Perched on Monte alle Croci, a hill just south of the Arno with sprawling views of Florence below and the Pistoian Apennines and Apuans due north, sits the Basilica of San Miniato. The church, which was built in three stages from 1018 to 1207, is more quietly stunning than Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce and the Duomo; it is also older than these popular Florentine basilicas. Olivetan monks look after the San Miniato complex, which includes the church, a monastery, a bishop’s palace, a bell tower, and a cemetery. I have visited San Miniato often over the past several months, but have caught sight of the white-robed Olivetans only a handful of times and usually behind the raised counter of the little gift shop where they sell the elixirs, unguents, teas, honeys, and other products they make. Sometimes, as I walk the many steps that lead to the church, I imagine a lone monk peering at me sight unseen through the barred windows of the monastery that sits brown and heavy next to the church’s luminous white and green marble facade. He knows I will enter the church and sit in a pew set on the right side of the nave, the only place in this exquisite, thronged city where I can think clearly—or not at all, it is difficult to say which. The church is often empty in the morning and that’s when I like to walk from my apartment in the Oltrarno east along the river into the San Niccolò neighborhood and up the hill to San Miniato.

more from Suzanne Menghraj at Guernica here.