advertisement

San Gimignano’s main church is awash in frescoes, including one around the main door: a gruesome “Last Judgment” by Sienese artist Taddeo di Bartolo (1410) in which mean-looking little devils taunt tortured souls. Bartolo allegedly modeled some of the characters after townsfolk who rubbed him the wrong way. Much of the nave is also covered in the flat, two-dimensional frescoes of the Sienese school that are in effect a comic-strip-like Poor Man’s Bible, illustrating familiar stories for the illiterate faithful in simple and straightforward fashion. The left wall is frescoed with 26 scenes from the Old Testament (look for an especially satisfying panel showing the Pharaoh and his army being swallowed by the Red Sea) and the right wall with 22 scenes from the New Testament (a very shifty looking Judas receives his 30 pieces of silver for betraying Christ).

The best frescoes in the church are the two in the tiny Cappella di Santa Fina off the right aisle, where Renaissance master Domenico Ghirlandaio decorated the walls with airy scenes of the life of Fina, a local girl who, though never officially canonized, is one of San Gimignano’s patron saints. Little Fina was very devout and when she fell ill with paralysis refused a bed and lay instead on a board, never complaining even when worms and rats fed off her decaying flesh. As you’ll see in one of the panels, St. Gregory appeared and foretold the exact day (his feast day, March 12) on which Fina would die. She expired right on schedule and began working miracles immediately—all the bells in town rang spontaneously at the moment of her death. The second panel shows her funeral and another miracle, in which one of her nurses regained the use of her hand (paralyzed from long hours cradling the sick girl’s head) when she laid it in Fina’s lifeless hand.