Climbing up what seemed like a never-ending expanse of stairs, my friend and I climbed to the top of one of the formidable Florentine hills. We were on a class trip to San Miniato al Monte-al Monte meaning “on the mountain,” and they weren’t kidding! Twenty minutes uphill to base of an imposing staircase, five more flights of stairs await your overtired legs before you reach the pinnacle. Finally at the top is a beautiful green-and-white faced church. Built in the 15th century by Syrian merchants, San Miniato al Monte has become a hub of mystical speculation.
The church is designed in Golden Ratio, a mathematical constant that is hard to create and even harder to duplicate. This irrational number, beginning 1.618, can be more easily defined by an analogy: divide a line segment about two-thirds of the way across. Label the larger section a and the smaller section b. In golden proportion, a is to b, as a+b is to a. So the smaller is to the larger as the larger is to the whole. This proportion can be found through San Miniato al Monte, which many believe gives it its mystical potency. Also, the ratio of 2:1, or 1:2:1, is found throughout the interior of the church, giving its construction perfect harmony.
There is also the idea of seven chakras, which is a Hindu principle that is believed to lead to enlightenment. These chakras are located throughout the body in a straight line from between the legs to about three centimeters above the head. It is believed that through intense meditation and devotion, each of the six chakras can be opened; when the sixth is opened the seventh will open automatically. The principle targets of each chakra can be found in the tiles on the floor of San Miniato. For example, the fifth chakra, believed to be located in the throat, concerns speech and interpersonal communication. In the fifth tile on the floor, there are two griffins attached by the tongue, indicating speech. The map of the Zodiac is also located on the floor as one of the seven tiles.
Another mystery is that of the pulpit on the second level of the church. Supporting the lectern of the pulpit is a man standing on a lion with an eagle of his head (its wings support the lectern). The man, eagle, and lion are symbols for three of the four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The only symbol that’s missing is the ox. Both the man and the eagle are looking straight ahead, yet the lion is gazing to the floor where the center tiles are. It is believed by some that the lion is gazing down at the ox in the Zodiac, indicating the fourth Evangelist.
Finally is the mystery of the third door. There are three entrance doors, the central one and the one of the far right being open. Yet the one on the far left is never opened. This is because the third door is believed to be the “doorway to Heaven,” out which Joseph walked, never to be opened again until the second coming of Christ.
And to think that this church over looks all of Florence, looming on the hillside with constant vigilance-it’s incredible to behold.
– Kathryn Herbert
Marist Freshman Florence Experience
For more information about the Freshman Florence Experience, click here: http://www.marist.edu/academics/italy/ffe.html