See the splendid frescoes inside San Gimignano Cathedral: a real feast for the eyes.
Dominating Piazza Duomo from the height of its staircase, the bare façade of this Romanesque church is a little misleading. Inside a feast of colours awaits. And some of the greatest frescoes in Tuscany, including some by the Renaissance master Ghirlandaio.
San Gimignano was once an important centre along the Via Francigena and in 1148 this simple church was consecrated by Pope Eugenio III returning to Rome along the route. After that it was enlarged and decorated profusely by great artists to give the town’s main church the dignity it deserves.
The contrast between the bare exterior and the lavishly decorated interior is quite striking. The walls are completely covered in frescoes, so that while walking around the building you are always surrounded by their colourful figures and stories. For the Medieval community these frescoes were intended to provide religious instruction.
The frescoes in San Gimignano Cathedral:
The “Last Judgment” by Sienese artist Taddeo di Bartolo (1410) can be seen above the main door. It shows images of devils taunting tortured souls, intended no doubt as a warning to everyone who saw it.
The left aisle meanwhile is dedicated to the Old Testament, painted by Bartolo di Fredi around 1367. Look out for “The Creation of Adam and Eve” and “Noah’s ark”, and see how the Sienese painter added imaginative and lively details to his biblical topics. On the opposite side a New Testament fresco cycle was created by pupils of Simone Martini, with scenes from the life of Christ.
The Chapel of Saint Fina is the highlight here, added in 1468, where the Florentine master Domenico Ghirlandaio depicted the dramatic life of the local saint Fina. Its bright and elegant style brings some peace after the drama of the other frescoes.
Adjoined to San Gimignano Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta you can visit the Museum of Sacred Art, that hosts the renowned “Madonna of the Roses” by Bartolo di Fredi.
Who was Saint Fina?
Saint Fina was a very devout young girl born in San Gimignano in 1238. Legend says that when, at the age of ten, she fell ill with paralysis, she refused a bed and laid instead on a board. St. Gregory appeared and foretold the exact day (his feast day March 12) on which Fina would die. He was proved right, and at the moment of her death all the bells in town rang spontaneously. The second panel shows her funeral and another miracle, in which she heals one of her nurses.