Church of Santa Maria della Spina

Facciata Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina e Lungarno (A. Matteucci)
Facciata Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina e Lungarno (A. Matteucci)
The construction of the church of Santa Maria della Spina, wanted by the rich Gualandi family, probably went hand in hand with that of the Novo bridge (1182), destroyed in the 15th century. The façade is closed by three triangular pediments, decorated with rosettes and inlays, on which, inside small aedicules, there are the statues of the Annunciation (on the sides) and the Redeemer, works of the school of Andrea Pisano. The central aedicule there hosts the Madonna and Child with Angels by Giovanni Pisano. On the side is a gallery of statues, Christ and Apostles, attributed to Giovanni, like the statues of the eastern side. On the high pyramidal spires there is a Madonna and Child with Angels by Nino Pisano. The interior of the building has a single hall with wall decorations in two-tone bands, on the altar stands out a Madonna of the Rose by Andrea Pisano (1343-1348) placed between Saints Peter and John the Baptist, by Nino and Tommaso Pisano.On the counter façade there is a copy of Madonna del Latte by Andrea Pisano (1343-1348), icon of the city. The original is now kept in the National Museum of San Matteo.
We do not have a certain date for the foundation of the church, which was four meters below the current level, on the bed of the river, but we know that it had the name of oratory of Santa Maria in Pontenovo. In 1325, works started that led it to assume the gothic form that we can observe today. The name Spina derives from the relic of the thorn of Christ's crown present in the building since 1333, left to the Longhi family by a wealthy merchant and later donated to the small oratory (today the relic is in the church of Santa Chiara). The church is owned by the Municipality of Pisa and hosts temporary exhibitions.
In 1871, due to the constant damage caused by the floods of the Arno, the church was completely dismantled and reassembled in the place where we see it today. An operation that upset the critics of the century, who unleashed ferocious (and perhaps well-targeted) attacks. The architect who carried out this transformation was Vincenzo Micheli, with the approval of the commission of the Academy of Fine Arts of Pisa. The works lasted until 1884. During the works, the Spina was rebuilt on 3 steps, its walls were raised by one meter, the original sculptures were replaced with casts (the originals are now kept in the Museum of San Matteo) and the sacristy, once facing the Arno, was never rebuilt. During his stay in Pisa, John Ruskin (1819-1900), English writer, poet, painter and art critic, openly expressed his disagreement with the dismantling and rebuilding of the church by swinging his cane in the air. The first of Ruskin's frequent visits to Pisa dates back to the autumn of 1840.
Some distinguished voices:

Quot. Dante's river was transfigured, shining with brilliance as if the bank was lit by Beatrice's laughter, filled to the brim like an eternal plenitude that had no mouth but originated in the sea and poured into the heart of the pious city kneeling before the rectangular urn where it has kept a handful of holy land for centuries.
_ Madonna Pisa!
The great heron obeyed that sigh as he surmounted the pink river.
_ Pisa Madonna of the Burning Thorn!
A clear peace was in the air; but the lover's chest swelled with a fervour that was as severe as breathlessness. In all that light of joy it seemed that she felt the thorn of passion kept in the marble tabernacle and of prayer suspended on the bank, and that her blood revived the relic. She could no longer keep her soul in the lock of her bones, the rapture was so strong...

Gabriele D'Annunzio, Maybe yes, maybe no, 1910

Quot. The smallness of the dimensions, the exquisite execution and proportion of the construction justify, perhaps, the naive exclamation of a very fine and very rich English lady who said to her husband in front of the church of the Spina: “Please, love, buy me this beautiful little object and let's take it with us, I'd like to put it in our garden...

Marguerite Blessington, The idler in Italy, 1839
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