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On the highest hills outside of Florence, Italy stands San Miniato, the most famous zodiac church in Europe. This unique basilica is a surviving example of the medieval cathedral builders’ desire to combine astrological and Christian symbolism. At its center is a remarkable thirteenth century zodiac floor.

Drawn to its essence without knowing why, I took refuge there and found rejuvenation and soul inspiration during my year in Florence. I lived there as an art student, and my apartment was a short distance away from this astrological wonder.

Here was a place built by mystical people designed with the intention of linking humanity with the spiritual realm through painting with sunlight and symbolic art. Liturgical traditions link Christ with the Sun. Many architectural designs of the ancient world are based on the idea of directing sunbeams for zodiacal and calendar purposes. “What the Sun is for the Universe, Christ is for the spiritual structure of the world,” proclaimed Ambrose of Milan.

Sunrise at San Miniato tells a silent, mystical light story. I was captivated by the Sun shafts’ warm illumination of the zodiac pavement. The central image was a Sun symbol, although at that time the Earth was believed to be the center of world. The Sun represented the religious life, and the Moon was the church and the congregation.

Inside the church, the Sun’s rays fall on the elegant arc of the Taurus bull on the marble pavement. Had I stood there at sunrise 793 years ago and looked into the Florentine sky, I’d have seen the new crescent Moon nestled between the planets Venus and Mercury, with Saturn hidden behind the Sun. It was an astronomical phenomenon—a stellium in Taurus—and the builders of this basilica chose this date, May 28, 1207, at sunrise, for the installation of the zodiac mosaic. (Editor's note: The stellium is in the constellation of Taurus, not the sign. If you run a tropical zodiac chart for this date, the stellium will be in Gemini.)

The medieval astrologers looked to the constellations as well as the traditional zodiac. The Taurus constellation, Pleiades, was large, overlapping into the sign of Gemini. Taurus, the sign of Christ’s incarnation and the church’s patron saint, San Miniato, is a fixed earth sign. (Editor's note: Taurus is the sign of manifestation on Earth, not Jesus' birth sign.) It was the kind of “grounding” energy one wished to capture when building a lasting monument of spiritual incarnation. A Latin inscription lies on the floor nearby. When translated, it states the time, date and names of the planets involved with the stellium. Daily sunrise heralded by the Taurus arc silently reminds us of Christ’s rebirth.

In early Christian time, the symbol for Christ was the fish. One finds this symbol in the catacombs representing the Piscean Christ Age. I observed the curious fish symbols on the church’s marble façade. Two mermen were each eating a fish! The Pisces sector of the zodiac floor also held mysteries. The fish were parallel, rather than swimming in their usual opposite directions. It was as if they were pointing to something and at the same time suggesting actual feet. Opposite the fish was the symbol for Virgo the virgin. My eyes followed the alignment of the fish to discover a painting of the Virgin Mary.

Pisces is associated astrologically with the feet that walk the path. I was placing my feet on the heavenly floor by standing on the pavement. A sense of antiquity and serenity swept over me as I followed the direction of the pointing fish and made my way down the aisle. A matching set of fishes appeared at the entrance to the raised choir, pointing upward like arrows. They led me into the apse, where a beautiful mosaic of Christ, the Virgin Mary and Saint Miniato filled the upper chamber. For a few days each year a shaft of sunlight falls on Christ’s foot, then disappears. The foot points downward toward what is directly underneath the mosaic. This is where the bones of Saint Miniato himself lay in their resting place in the crypt. The set of symbols forms a cross, the two fish marking the horizontal line while the vertical Christ line moves to the crypt.

It was only after my return to Canada that I discovered the full spiritual meaning of San Miniato. As synchronicity would have it, I came upon a book titled The Secret Zodiac, a sixteen year study of my beloved basilica by Fred Gettings. ”The true books of the esoteric astrology of the mediaeval era are not to be found in manuscripts, but in stone and marble of the mediaeval cathedrals and churches,” he writes. He felt that the Sun symbolism represented healing, and that the cathedral possessed “an almost palpable feeling of ancient healing power.” My soul knew what my intellect could only partially discern. San Miniato reconnected me with something greater than myself.




Marcia Masino has been a working astrologer for over thirty years. She is the author of the books Easy Tarot Guide and Best Tarot Practices, both modern classics on tarot interpretation.She has been awarded certification as a Grandmaster of Tarot by the American Tarot Association She is also a contributor to Llewellyn Publications' first Tarot Calendar and writer for Fate Magazine.

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Other StarIQ articles by Marcia Masino:

  • Beth Alpha Synagogue’s Zodiac Floor   5/31/2001
  • Washington's Astrological Secrets   1/15/2001
  • The Astrological Tarot Deck   12/11/2000
  • Gifts of Love   2/14/2000

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