San Miniato El Monte marble carpet, the way of salvation and deliverance

By Giorgio Elio Papagallo

It is interesting to note how the installation of floor panels from the central entrance to the Basilica of San Miniato Al Monte to the Tent of the Cross follows a coherent and complex theological design of the believer’s rebirth and renewal. Each box represents a stage through salutes that take people from sin to the gates of paradise.
Let’s try to walk this path in a kind of internal pilgrimage.
Outside of the dedicated inscription (HIC Valvis ANTE CELESTI NUMINE DANTE METRICUS ET IUDEX HOC FECIT CONDERE JOSEPH ERGO ROGO CRISTUM QUOD SEMPER VIVAT IN IPSUM). It has become clear that good is always protected by evil, that the defeat of the enemy is the only condition for the victory of eternal happiness, and that it does not happen without the struggle to defeat the evil.

Here, therefore, the second and third panels are crowded with lions, griffins, wolves standing under the branches of the tree of life, ready to warn those who come near. It is also ready to tempt and tempt the weak man by constantly testing him to confuse him and prevent him from returning to the state of true purity. It is probably no coincidence that the third floor panel, as if to mark the “misleading” function performed by these monsters, rotates the construction axes of the zoomorphic figures 90 degrees along the line of travel from the entrance. The icon of the altar sacred tree appears as an element of division in the Zumrfik image, from which the earthly roots flow (trunk, human condition, death) and the terminal branches (upward, heavenly condition, eternal life). Here plant symbolism expresses a more clear and complex meaning. The tree is the axis of the universe, the “ladder” that the faithful must climb to see the divine light. In this regard, even the monsters facing each other in front of the trunk assume a certain symbolic value: tempting and confusing.
After the defeat, without fear, the holy guardians, representing the zodiac here, is an important moment on the path to salvation. The symbolic value of this box and its special position in the center of the path must be explained with some essential premises. The zodiac houses placed along the traveling axis of the marble carpet are Capricorn and Cancer. These two signs are traditionally associated with the two solstices of winter (Capricorn) and summer (Cancer). Now, in the annual cycle, the two ionophores are usually two points relative to the north and south in the spatial order. This correspondence is carried out by the transfer of the pole symbol in solar symbolism, projecting the vertical axis in the plane of the zodiac which unites the two poles of the world, the north and the south. The ionospheric axis thus assumes the role of a true vertical axis and ionospheres can be defined as “poles of the year”.
These two ion points have been associated with the “migration” of spirits since the time of Greek civilization. The expressions of this same civilization refer to the “door of men”, the sign of Cancer, and the “door of the gods”, the sign of Capricorn. Among the Latin, the two ion gates are directly connected with the symbolism of Janus. The Janus key, one in gold and the other in silver, opens the door of the annual cycle (Janu) and gives access to the ascending and descending parts of the zodiac wheel. The miraculous door of Capricorn (Janua Quelli) gives access to the ascending “path”; Towards the descent of Cancer Ion Gate (January inferni).
The right-handed movement from Capricorn to Cancer emphasizes the strong inspiration of the ascending movement of the soul towards the celestial pole, and even the figurative representation of the houses in the individual zodiac. Here, all zoomorphic and ethnographic figures are rotated clockwise; No attitude and no position of statistics contradicts the rotating direction of the zodiac. The same fish, which has been depicted in the opposite direction even in the tradition of sculpture, is seen turning in the same direction. The right-handed rotating verse, so that all the images of the zodiac participate, appears perfectly extended, and there is no clear comparison between the other zodiac models of the same period. In this case, s. The Miniato zodiac is not only the traditional representation of the Christ-Sun of justice which illuminates and sanctifies the natural cycle of the seasons and the activities of men with them. It is not just the calendar that marks the major moments of the liturgical year through the continuity of the month. If we interpret in the light of the above consideration, the symbolic meaning of the whole floor cycle as the manifestation of the process of salvation through salutes, then our zodiac will reveal itself as the crucial moment of this path, the moment when man finds himself at the crossroads, good (half ascending) and evil (half) Landing) and the gates of heaven (Janua Quelli) or hell (Janua Inferni) will be open for him. In this new spiritual perspective, the relationship with the figurative tradition of the zodiac, strongly characterized by classical and pagan motifs, is also relaxed. Thus the twins no longer represent the naked male couple (Castor and Pollax), as we still see in the zodiac of the Florentine Baptisteri, but the faithful, male-female, modestly dressed, symbol of trembling and angry humanity.
At the four corners of the zodiac, griffins formed in a circle supported by the carotid fight the snake. The connection between the eagle, the celestial bird, the Christ-sun image, which defeats the serpent, and the ancient symbol representing the forces of evil and darkness is quite clear, although the Griffin symbol has been replaced here. . One reason for this replacement must be found in the general savings root responsible for the two animal symbols. All the religious meanings in the zodiac, fighting between opposition and good and evil, between life and death, between desire (the cycle of transcendence) and the temptation of material life (the descending cycle) seem to have been declared by this representation. The fight between the griffin and the snake.
The pious and righteous person who has chosen the path of goodness, as long as he eats the fruit of faith, does not need to be afraid of anything. Here, then, the fifth floor panel, is highly symbolic in this case. This time the theme of salvation comes back with eagle, snake and dove motifs. The well-known symbol of the eagle in the center, here is the symbol of the world, enriched by the insertion of eight spoke wheels, scattered by divine light, which holds the snake in its beak while the pair of pigeons, faithful, stand on flower branches. R. Whitcover, in his metaphors and the transfer of symbols, explicitly saw in this essay a figurative translation of the history of the physiologas (a work written between the 2nd and 3rd centuries, with symbolic interpretations of many animals). As long as the dove (faithful) is fixed on the tree of life (the three-branched tree, the sign of the Trinity), eating its fruit (the fruit of the Holy Spirit), the dragon-snake cannot catch them; The giant is ready to devour them if they fly. The eagle (Christ) will therefore ensure salvation because the serpent (Satan) will surrender to his power.
But the heavenly paradise, the only eucharistic feast (the dove feeding on the fruit of the tree of life) expected, will only welcome the faithful after death. The road to eternal life therefore goes through the agony of death (sixth and seventh boxes with portraits of lions and griffins). So we are at the end of the believer’s mortal journey (the Lion) and at the beginning of his rebirth (Griffin). There is no pain of loss of earthly life because the reward is heavenly paradise (eighth and last box). Images of lions and griffins already found in the outer pediment of the Basilica come back to this conclusion through salutes. The last act of the earthly pilgrimage, the upward aspiration that leads the faithful to “climb” the tree of life, the cosmic axis that unites the exposed world to the heavenly pole, thus bringing us back to the tympanum where the cross of Christ is the end of that aspiration.

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