One of the artistic highlights of Pistoia, the Romanesque Cathedral welcome visitors with an elegant facade and a bulky bell tower, and inside, the magnificent altar of Saint James.
The facade is an eclectic mix of geometric Florentine and Pisan (the upper colonnaded galleries) styles. Right above the main portal Della Robbia’s work can be seen on the vault, and in the terracotta relief depicting the Virgin and Child. You’ll notice the contrast with the powerful bell tower, built on what was left of a Lombard tower. The roof is topped by the statues of the two patron saints: Zeno and James.
What to see in Pistoia Cathedral:
The history of this church is tied to the first martyr of Christendom, Saint James. After the bishop of Pistoia obtained some relics of Saint James from his tomb in Santiago de Compostela in 1144, a chapel was built in the Cathedral, as the town became an important stop on the pilgrim’s route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
Later the big attraction for the pilgrims became the altarpiece dedicated to Saint James, a masterful piece of silversmithing started in 1287 that took almost 2 centuries to be completed. Even Brunelleschi took part in the elaborate work, that comprises 628 figures playing out biblical scenes and episodes from the saint’s life. Today the 2 ton feast of silver can be found in the first chapel on the right hand side. Tickets available inside the Baptistery.
Near the entrance on the right, take a look at the tomb of the lawyer and poet Cino da Pistoia (1337), a friend of Dante, with the seated figure of the dead man between the patron saints Zeno and, once again, saint James. Just before the Chapel there’s the emotive wooden Crucifix by Florentine artist Coppo di Marcovaldo and his son Salerno (1275), who go on to exert great influence on Tuscan art as the forerunners of Giotto.
The graceful painting “Madonna di Piazza” by Andrea del Verrocchio, for many years attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, is on the left hand side.
Who was Saint James?
Saint James was one of Jesus’s disciples, and the first martyr, decapitated by Roman soldiers in 44 AD. After his death, his body was brought to Galicia in northern Spain, where he had been before to spread Jesus’s word. After being miraculously discovered by the hermit Pelayo in 813 the cathedral of Santiago di Compostela was built and became one of Europe’s pilgrim destinations. The “Way of Santiago” is still today one of the most important European pilgrim routes.