We headed across the river to the San Spirito neighborhood of Florence where we found St. Mark’s Anglican Church on Via Maggio 18, not far from the Ponte S. Trinita. I wanted to drop of a copy of PILGRIMAGE for Father Lawrence MacLean, the Chaplain there. The church is in an old palazzo and hosts opera concerts on a regular basis.
Alas, after buzzing the bell for the church, we learned from a charming young lady who lived in the building that Father Lawrence was away in Assisi but would be returning on Sunday. We were sorry to miss him and miss seeing the church, but grateful the young lady was there who was kind enough to place the book on his desk. I wish them all blessings in this beautiful city of art and faith, and thank them for their witness to the English speaking community.
We decided to visit one of my favorite churches, San Miniato al Monte, the ancient basilica on the hill. We found the long stairs that rise to the Benedictine shrine built over the grave of the early martyr Minos (a victim of the same emperor as Reparata). The stairs are steep, but shady, lined with leafy trees, and once were used as the Stations of the Cross. Today I could only find four crosses, and said short prayers before each, the others have disappeared behind wire fencing. We continued the climb, feeling the stretch of our leg muscles and turning occasionally to see Florence appear before us far below. Finally we reached the Piazzale Michelangelo where a great terrace has become the pre-eminent location for photos of the Arno and the churches that rise from the rooftops like mother hens, or perhaps like guardian angels. The river wound below us, parting the city, under the ocher bridges and a blue sky bordered with white clouds.
We turned to the path that led to the basilica by way of San Salvatore, the church cared for by a Franciscan community. The door was open and we walked up the central aisle to the full size statue of Francis looking down upon us, his face at once full of pain and full of love. We said our thanksgivings in the Blessed Sacrament chapel in the south transept, and emerged into the bright afternoon sun.
Further up the hill of cypresses and shade trees we entered the “sancta porta” that opened onto another broad viewing terrace of Florence. The tall Romanesque San Miniato rose behind us in its green/white marble pattern against the blue sky. The 11th century church is still cared for by Benedictines, and as we entered the darkened nave I listened for an office chanting in the crypt but all was silent. As our eyes adjusted to the dim light, the massive frescoes along the side walls began to appear, all roses and greens, telling stories of Minos, the saints, Christ and his mother. At the head of the central aisle stood the tiny “Crucifix Chapel” added in the 15th century to house a miraculous crucifix (no longer there, but at S. Trinita as I recall). A stunning golden altarpiece focuses the nave between the rising stairs on either side.
Those stairs ascend to the high altar and chancel where a domed mosaic glitters of Christ Pantokrator. Stairs also descend from the nave to the crypt where an altar is sanctified by the grave of Minos. Here, in past visits, the monks in their white robes, have chanted the offices, their voices floating through the vast space.
We returned to the nave, slipped out the front doors onto the bright terrace, and stepped down the Way of the Cross linking the city of art with the mountain of faith. We crossed the river and headed back to our hotel.