1000 years of history and spirituality

by Gianni Mercatali, ph. Mariangela Montanari


“Haec est Porta Coeli”: this is the door to heaven. This is what the inscription on marble reads, revealing the true meaning of San Miniato al Monte, for 1000 years a passage of beauty in between the earth and  the sky on a hill south of Florence  dominating all the city. It was precisely in 2019 that celebrations for the millennial of the Benedictine Abbey ended with the fourth edition of the Festival of Religions created and organized by Francesca Campana Comparini. These celebrations lasted a year. The Benedictine Abbey was founded exactly in April 1018 as per the wishes of the Florentine Bishop Ildebrando. The imposing basilica is an example of Florentine Romanesque which holds the relics of St. Minias, the first martyr of the city in about 250 A.D. The façade is one of the masterpieces of Romanesque architecture, with its rigorous two-coloured geometry created with white marble and green serpentine marble of Prato. It took two centuries to finish the whole basilica. The place is truly magical, a symbol of beauty, encounters and unity. It has always been a spiritual and cultural reference point for the city of Florence and the Florentines. Leading the monastic community is the abbot Father Bernardo Gianni since the end of 2015. He led the way for the renewal of the monastic community of the Olivetan Benedictines with an ulterior and renewed opening towards the city with  modern and accessible language. Always at hand and ready to listen, he became the reason to go to San Miniato for many, to recover and nourish their faith. A man of great culture as well as a deep spirituality, he is the one whom Pope Francis appointed as preacher of last year’s spiritual exercises for Lent, after the same Holy Father had entrusted him with the preparation of the ecclesiastic Convention of Florence slightly before he became abbot. “Abbot is a word coming from the Aramaic Abbà, which means Father, dad,” says Father Bernardo. “A word which the very same Jesus voiced. And in  this word lies the mark of the service for which I have been called  to fulfil for my children: to be their father and show, bear witness to, confirm the three fundamental virtues of every path in the Lord’s way: faith, hope and love.” But Father Bernardo is also a social network monk, widely followed on the main networks. A Benedictine of our times. “The possibility of communicating with lots of people, who in any case, live online, does not alter life within the monastery,” he continues. “With a simple telephone, you can share intuitions, pictures, perceptions of our monastic life with people who lead different lives but who, with a picture or word, can discover the desire for God once again.” The evocative pictures by Mariangela Montanare tell of the spiritual strength of this place.

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