The Santa Maria della Spina Church in Pisa is an exuberantly decorated church along the banks of the River Arno. The small church stands out among the adjacent palaces, which are sober of both construction and colour. Spina refers to one of the thorns in Christ’s crown, which used to be kept inside the church.
Santa Maria della Spina Church Pisa
Address, opening hours and admission (2021)
The address of the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina is Lungarno Gambacorti – 56125 Pisa (tel. +39 0555121919). Bus: 5. Opening hours: From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and during the summer months from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Closed on Mondays. Entrance fee: 2 Euro.
History Santa Maria della Spina Church Pisa
The Santa Maria della Spina Church was founded in 1230, although it was then called Santa Maria del Ponte Novo. It stood near the Ponte Novo bridge connecting the Via Sant’Antonio to the Via Santa Maria. This bridge was destroyed in the 15th century.
The oratory was given a thorn from the crown of Christ in 1333, which gave it its current name. It had been brought to Pisa by a merchant and donated to the church by the family Longhi. Although the thorn has since been moved to the Santa Chiara Church, the sanctuary is still called della spina.
In the 14th century several renovations took place, probably under the supervision of Lupo di Francesco, who had learned his craft from Giovanni Pisano. The maintenance work had become a necessity, because of the subsidence of the terrain next to the river.
His use of spires and tympanums is reminiscent of other cathedrals such as those of Siena and Orvieto, as well as the architecture of funerary monuments.
In the 19th century it was decided to dismantle the church completely and to rebuild it on a higher spot. After the reconstruction the church was one meter taller, the sacristy had been removed and several statues replaced by copies. It took four years, from 1871 till 1875, to finish the new construction. Unfortunately several statues were damaged during the renovation.
The facade is characterized by three spires, of which the middle one seems to be a little further back. A central pillar supports a small aedicula containing a sculpture of the “Madonna and Child between Two Angels”. The tabernacle was probably made by Nicola Pisano, between 1310 and 1320.
On top of the three pediments there are more statues, made by Andrea Pisano’s studio.
The south side is decorated with statues of the 12 apostles, together with one of Jesus himself.
The interior of the church consists of a single nave. The walls are characterised by two-coloured stripes.
The Galleria degli Apostoli
The statues near the main altar depict the “Madonna della Rosa”, “John the Baptist” and “Saint Peter” and are attributed to Nino and Andrea Pisano.
The relic of the Thorn can now be seen in the Santa Chiara Church. The tabernacle where the thorn was kept is still visible in the church, however. It was made in 1534, by Stagio Stagi.
A “Madonna del Latte”, made by Andrea and Nicola Pisano, which used to be placed at the altar near the entrance, can now be seen in the Museo di San Matteo.
The tabernacle where the famous thorn was kept is still visible in the church. It was made in 1534, by Stagio Stagi.
The marble choir was made by Andrea Guardi.
The painting “Holy Conversation” by il Sodoma, which used to adorn the church, is now also preserved in the San Matteo Museum.