Sunday, September 13, 2009


"Where can I buy stamps?" "Alla il tabbachi" Yes, but which one! A shrug of the shoulders from most and, in the end it was the monks at San Miniato, which I visited this afternoon, who sold them.

I had been to the 10.30 Cathedral Plansong Mass and then caught the 13 bus up to San Miniato. It lies on a hill just south west of the city and, like Fiesole yesterday, is an oasis of calm. For many this is the finest church in all Florence, founded in 1015 at the site where the head of the Roman soldier, S. Minato, rested after his martyrdom (he was beheaded). The crypt contains the relic and above there is a marvellous choir with an inspiring mosaic Christ Pantocrator by Ravenna craftsmen. The choir is reached by a long flight of steps rising from the nave, the focus of which is a fine baldichino (1448) beneath the apse. The walls are still, mostly, covered by frescoes from the 14th/15th centuries. I loved this place, which is home to the white Benedictine monks of Monte Oliveto) and returned to it for Vespers. But I also took in the wonderful panoramic views of the city from Piazza Michelangelo and saw the storm which had brewed in the afternoon as it passed over the westenr parts of Florence. It sprinkled a few drops on us.

Yesterday I took the bus up to Fiesole. I wanted to get out of an urban environment, which I have been in for most of the past week. Ancient Italy was, of course, dominated by fortified cities like Pisa, Lucca and, now, Florence, and I found myself getting claustrophobic and needing to breathe. Fiesole lets you do just that, and Florentines have used it as an escape for centuries. Its where many built villas to escape the heat of summer. The small Duomo is quietly beautiful and, on one of my walks in the hills, I came across a small, prayerful chapel with the Blessed Sacrament exposed where I spent some time. It belongs to the Poor Clares. I also walked up the steep hill to the monastery of St. Francis, a very rustic place built on the old Roman acropolice. On my return I chanced upon the monastery of the Jerusalem Community (based in Santa Maria della Assunta in Badia Fiorentina. Another wonderful oasis, but in the heart of the city. The community was only founded recently and is mixed, young and growing. (Actually, I have been suroprised, and impressed, by the number of young monks, friars and nuns I have seen around the places I have visited. There still seem to be many vocations to the Religious Life in Tuscany). The church is also the place where Dante first met Beatrice...

So, a week has almost gone by and I feel full of the Renaissance! One thing I have learnt is how far its architecture, in particular, drew upon the-then rediscovered classical period. This was the beginning of that style of art and architecture which was so to influence Eurpose for the next 500 years and was only, from the last century, superceded by modernism.

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