Having been urged to see the Basilica di San Miniato al Monte, I went to the church’s website earlier this week and noticed that today was the feast day of San Miniato, the first Christian martyr in Florence. I decided to time my visit to be there for the solemn Mass.
Before Mass, I had time to admire the view, walk through the church, and visit the Porte Sante, the cemetery enclosed by the walls around the complex. The interior of the church is lovely – uncluttered and serene. Carlo Collodi, the creator of Pinocchio, is buried in the cemetery, but I couldn’t find his grave; I’ll look again on my next visit.
I was sitting in the church when the bells began to ring at 5:30 p.m. They continued to ring for about 15 minutes, at the end of which the priests, monks and oblates processed into the nave and a beautifully-sung Mass began. It was all in Italian, of course, but one word I did understand was ‘pace’, said when handshakes were offered at the sign of peace.
As Mass ended, the priest explained to the congregation that by tradition … and I didn’t understand anything after that. Fortunately, thanks to a transliteration of the content on the website, I knew that what followed was a ritual involving the opening of the Holy Door, the blessing of the congregation and the return of the relic to the crypt.
The three priests who had been concelebrating the Mass exchanged their chasubles for a garment that looked like a heavy robe. The priest carrying the monstrance wore a humeral veil (I looked up that phrase) in order to avoid touching the monstrance with his bare hands. A procession formed with a monk carrying a thurible, two monks carrying candles flanking a monk carrying a crucifix, followed by the oblates and priests. They processed down the nave, out the center door and walked around the perimeter of the forecourt, followed by the congregation. Then the priests and monks climbed the few steps in front of the Holy Door and turned to face the congregation. The priest carrying the monstrance blessed the congregation, all of whom knelt on the ground, making the sign of the cross and saying the accompanying prayer. Something I found interesting is that a man who had been obnoxiously taking pictures (what was obnoxious was not the picture-taking but that he seemed unaware that other people were around him) fell to his knees with everyone else.
After this, the Holy Door was opened. Engraved on the step in front of this door is “Haec est Porta Coeli” (Latin: This is the Gate of Heaven). The procession re-entered the church through the door and proceeded to the crypt. After more prayers, the priest held the monstrance for the monks, oblates and congregation to kiss, one by one. Then the monstrance was placed on the altar in the crypt, ending the observance of the feast day of San Miniato.