If you only have time to see one thing in San Gimignano, let it be the town’s Romanesque Duomo. And if you only have time to take in one of its many treasures, make it the Saint Fina Chapel.
Inside San Gimigniano’s Cathedral, the Santa Fina Chapel can be found off the right aisle.
Painted by Renaissance master Domenico Ghirlandaio, the frescos on the walls are filled with airy scenes of the life of Fina. Fina was a local girl who, though never officially canonized, is one of San Gimignano’s patron saints. This fresco cycle is one of the finest in Tuscany.
Who was Santa Fina?
Legend has it that when the devout Santa Fina became paralysed through illness, she refused a bed and lay instead on a wooden pallet, never complaining, even when worms and rats began to feed off her decaying flesh.
The frescoes tell the story of how St. Gregory appeared and foretold the exact day (his feast day, March 12) on which Fina would die. He wasn’t wrong. Fina expired right on schedule and began working miracles immediately: causing the bells of the cathedral to toll spontaneously, and yellow violets to grow out of her pallet.
The second panel of the fresco shows her funeral and another subsequent miracle, in which one of her nurses regained the use of her hand, paralysed from long hours cradling the sick girl’s head.
These frescoes are the first of Ghirlandaio’s major works, both showing considerable knowledge of the laws of perspective, and the talent that would later put him in such demand as an artist.
Santa Fina Chapel in the movies:
The film “A tea with Mussolini“, set during WWII, shows these frescoes being rescued by a group of English ladies during a bombing raid.
Other frescoes by Ghirlandaio:
If you love the work of Renaissance master Domenico Ghirlandaio, the best places to see more of it is the Tornabuoni Chapel in Santa Maria Novella Church, and Sassetti Chapel in Santa Trinita Church in Florence. The frescoes here are considered the artist’s masterworks.