Saturday, January 27, 2007

Santa Maria della Spina, Pisa

There is of course more to Pisa than the Leaning Tower.

Sadly, it is often used only as a transit point to Florence and other parts of Tuscany and Umbria. If people do stay in Pisa it is often for one day only.

In 1873, Henry James wrote of Pisa:

"[A]s you "feel" the morbid charm of Pisa you press on it gently, and this somehow even under stress of whatever respectful attention. I found this last impulse, at all events, so far as I was concerned, quite contentedly spend itself in a renewed sense of the simple large pacified felicity of such an afternoon aspect as that of the Lung' Arno, taken up or down its course; whether to within sight of small Santa Maria della Spina, the tiny, the delicate, the exquisite Gothic chapel perched where the quay drops straight, or, in the other direction, toward the melting perspective of the narrow local pleasure-ground, the rather thin and careless bosky grace of which recedes, beside the stream whose very turbidity pleases, to a middle distance of hot and tangled and exuberant rural industry and a proper blue horizon of Carrara mountains.

The Pisan Lung'Arno is shorter and less featured and framed than the Florentine, but it has the fine accent of a marked curve and is quite as bravely Tuscan; witness the type of river-fronting palace which, in half-a-dozen massive specimens, the last word of the anciently "handsome," are of the essence of the physiognomy of the place.

In the glow of which retrospective admission I ask myself how I came, under my first flush, reflected in other pages, to fail of justice to so much proud domestic architecture--in the very teeth moreover of the fact that I was for ever paying my compliments, in a wistful, wondering way, to the fine Palazzo Lanfranchi, occupied in 1822 by the migratory Byron, and whither Leigh Hunt, as commemorated in the latter's Autobiography, came out to join him in an odd journalistic scheme."

One of the main features of Pisa is the number of churches, many of very long standing.

One of the most remarkable churches is the small Gothic church of Santa Maria della Spina.

It has sat perched on the banks of the Arno for nearly 800 years.

It was built in 1230 on the banks of the river Arno next to an important bridge, called Ponte Novo. The bridge was destroyed during the 15th century and was never rebuilt. Being the church close to the bridge, it was given the name of Santa Maria de Pontenovo. On being expanded in the fourteenth century by the Gualandi family, its name changed in 1333 to Santa Maria della Spina, when it preserved the reliquary of a thorn of the Saviour’s crown (spina = thorn). Today the reliquary is in the church of Santa Chiara (near the Hospital).

The exterior appearance is marked by cusps, tympani and tabernacles, together with a complicated sculpture decoration with tarsiae, rose-windows and numerous statues from the main Pisan artists of the 14th century. These include Lupo di Francesco, Andrea Pisano with his sons, Nino and Tommaso, and Giovanni di Balduccio. The Madonna and Child by Andrea Pisano is a copy.

Compared to the exterior, the interior appears quite simple. It has a single room, with a ceiling painted during the 19th century reconstruction. In the presbytery's centre is one of the highest masterpieces of Gothic sculpture, the Madonna of the Rose by Andrea and Nino Pisano.

Just a few yards away is the small Church where St Catherine of Siena received the stigmata.

Further references:

Wikipedia on "Santa Maria della Spina"