The title della Spina comes from a thorn of the crown of thorns placed on Christ during his Crucifixion, which was brought to the church in 1333, but is kept in the Church of Santa Chiara since the 19th century.
The church was built in 1230 by the Gualandi family, and it was originally called Santa Maria di Pontenovo, because of a nearby bridge across the river Arno that connected Via Sant’Antonio to Via Santa Maria, collapsed in the 15th century.
Between 1323 and 1376, enlargement works were made, probably under the direction of the architect Lupo di Francesco. Starting with the 5th decade of the 15th century, the works were supervised by the architect Andrea Pisano and his son, Nino.
After the unification of Italy, the city council and a commission formed by members of the Academy of Fine Arts decided to dismantle and rebuild the church on a higher ground. The works, led by the architect Vincenzo Micheli, started in 1871 and ended in 1875.
This intervention moved the building a few meters to the east and raised it by a meter. However, during the dismantling, there were extensive losses of the marble material and, through the reconstruction, substantial changes were made to the primitive structure.
A peculiarity is that the Church of Santa Maria della Spina, like all the churches located near a bridge, was always administered by the Municipality. Currently, the church hosts contemporary art exhibitions.
The church is an extraordinary example of Pisan Gothic. It has a rectangular plan and is completely covered with polychrome marble. The exterior is characterized by cusps, tympanums, tabernacles, together with complex sculptural structures such as inlays, rosettes and statues.
The facade, facing west, has two entrances with round arches, between which is the tabernacle with the statues of the Madonna and Child attributed to Giovanni Pisano, flanked by two angels added in the 17th century. On the sides, in two other tabernacles, there are two 14th-century angels.
The southern side of the church has numerous decorations with three mullioned windows and a door surmounted by a gallery of seventeen tabernacles of various sizes. In the right part of the southern side, corresponding to the apse area, we find a large door flanked by two rows of marble inlays and surmounted by a lintel of the 3rd century AD.
The East side has three pointed arches with simple windows. The presbytery area is surmounted by high pyramid cusps, with a beautiful Madonna and Child by Nino Pisano on top, flanked by two angels by the same author.
Compared to the rich exterior, the interior looks pretty simple. It is composed of a single room with a wooden ceiling decorated during the reconstruction of the 19th century.
HOW TO GET THERE
The Church of Santa Maria della Spina is located about 750 meters away of the Pisa train station, or about 10 minutes on foot. The closest bus station is Gambacorti 3, located a few meters away, on the bus Line 5.