Tha Language of the Angels

E’ uscito, per l’edizione Polistampa di Firenze, la traduzione inglese de “La Lingua degli Angeli”: “The Language of the Angels”. La traduzione è di Stephen Tobin. Ne pubblico di seguito l’introduzione.


Set into the marble floor of the Basilica of San Miniato in Florence, between the main door and an arcane depiction of the Zodiac, the visitor encounters a mysterious inscription dated 1207 which has been interpreted in many different ways:

“hic valvis ante, celesti numine dante;

metricus et iudex. hoc fecit condere joseph;.tinent de

ergo rogo cristum. quod semper vivat in ipsum;.tepor mte”


Everything seemed to me to point to the existence of a second, hidden meaning lurking beneath the literal translation. Pointers in that direction included the ambiguous use of terms that can have a dual meaning, such as valvis which can mean either a “half-shell” or the “wing of a door”; or the word ipsum in the last line, which can refer both to Christ and to the church itself.  But the thing that intrigued me most was the obscure reference to a secret which appeared to be capable of preventing death and halting the march of time.  If you take the last two words at the end of each line and string them together, you will find that they form a complete sentence which has nothing to do with the rest of the inscription.  Indeed, it appears to have been deliberately concealed:  1207.  Retinent de tempore et morte“.  In other words:  “these things preserve from time and death”.  It clearly wasn’t a later addition because the whole inscription was carved on a single slab of marble.  So the way the words were laid out seemed to have been specifically designed to make them difficult to interpret.  Why?  Who or what prevents time and death from pursuing their course?

The name Joseph aroused my curiosity too.  It is a Jewish name and was uncommon among Christians at that time.  Indeed, a search in numerous Florentine documents cited in texts and registers of the period revealed not a single instance of a Florentine Joseph, and certainly not a iudex or a metricus of that name.  Yet there was one exception, and a significant one at that.  A document dated 1218 mentioned an abbot of San Miniato by the name of Joseph.  That struck me as such a bizarre coincidence that I was immediately prompted to identify the Joseph in the inscription with Joseph the abbot.  But who was this Joseph?  Could a Jew really have become an abbot?  Could the wisdom of the Kabbalah and Christian Hermeticism really have come together in his person?  The elaborate sacred geometry of the façade and the symbolism of the marble floor certainly appeared to imply familiarity with those doctrines and to confirm the presence of a secret truth concealed among the walls and marble inlays of the great basilica.  Was the inscription, then, referring to that truth?

This was the question that prompted me to undertake a study which led me, year after year, to discover what were the in many ways surprising answers that I outlined in my book “The Gates of Heaven:  Secrets of Sacred Architecture” (1999).  It was only later that I realised the content of these symbols could perhaps be better explained through enigmas and parables, and it was that realisation that spawned the historical novel – although “allegorical tale” might be a better definition – called “The Secret of San Miniato” (2006).  An exhibition and a catalogue entitled “10 Centuries for the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte” allowed me to make several additional and original contributions to the topic in 2008.

But the basilica is a compendium of wisdom that demands patience in the reading of it because it is written with symbols, with the language of the angels.  This language has the sublime ability constantly to renew itself and each reading reveals new meanings. Thus I felt the need to draw a line in my studies, to take stock of the situation and come up with a solution for the novel’s many readers who were asking me where they could get hold of “The Gates of Heaven”, which is unfortunately now out of print. Hence this new book, which provides a state-of-the-art picture of my research to date. One might almost call it the novel’s hidden face because the two books complement and complete one another, each one containing something its twin is missing.  This book explains the symbols, but only the novel offers the key to understanding them.


Renzo Manetti (trad. Stephen Tobin)

Condividi l'articolo

Lascia un commento

Il tuo indirizzo email non sarà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *