San Gimignano

The Basilica of the Assumption of Mary The 



The Basilica of the Assumption of Mary, The Duomo in San Gimignano dates back to the 12th century and is one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in Tuscany. Developed over the years its interior walls are entirely decorated with frescoes dating back to the 14th century.

The Basilica of the Assumption of Mary known as The Duomo in San Gimignano is located in the Piazza Duomo in the centre of the city.  It is one of the most outstanding examples of Romanesque architecture in Tuscany.

Build in the early 12th century on the site of a former 10th century church it was consecrated on the 21 November 1148 by Pope Eugenius III. Although documentation indicates that the façade was erected in 1239.

Significant alterations have been undertaken on the structure over the years.  The cross vaults of the nave were built in the 14th century at the same time as the ogival windows were created. These can only be seen from the outside as they were later sealed off inside to enable the creation of the frescos on the internal walls.

In 1468 the building underwent significant modifications when the church and sanctuary were lengthened. The chapels of Santa Fina and of the Conception were also constructed while the main altar was moved and raised, and the choir was extended, and the current sacristy was constructed.

The façade is simple in appearance and is reached from the square through a wide staircase. There is no door leading to the central area of the church, it has instead, a door on each side of the stairway which leads into each of the aisles.  The church is in the shape of a Latin cross, with the structure having three naves supported by Romanesque stone columns supporting seven semi-circular arches. The arches being decorated with red, white and gold.  

On the entrance wall, near the door are two wooden statues, the Angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary, which date from 1421. The walls of the Basilica are entirely decorated with frescoes. The left nave was painted in the 14th century by Bartolo di Fredi (1330-1410) and show scenes from the Old Testament. Many of these were damaged due to inappropriate restoration being carried out.  

Also, in the left nave is the 16th century organ with its pietra serna balcony. Further down is the Chapel of the Conception which was created in 1477.

The central nave is decorated with three large frescoes by Taddeo di Bartolo (1363-1422) who worked in Siena, Pisa and Genoa. The most famous of which is ‘The Last Judgment’ painted in 1493.

The right nave contains scenes from the New Testament by Barna da Siena.  He is believed to have died in the Basilica when he fell from scaffolding while working on the frescos.  The work was finished by his nephew and pupil.  Some parts of these frescoes were damaged by dampness and were poorly restored.

The main altar contains a large marble ciborium (A chalice-like vessel used to contain the Blessed Sacrament) with a statue of an angel either side in a kneeling position praying. Behind the altar is a large wooden crucifix dating from 1754. 

The Chapel of Santa Fina was constructed in order to honour the saint when the city of San Gimignano was at the height of its splendour.  The chapel was conceived in 1457 and was to consist of two finely carved pilasters supporting a main arch and three smaller arches where the altar is positioned. In 1661 the chapel was enclosed by a marble balustrade. Inside the chapel are two frescoes on either side, telling of the saint’s death while others are on the ceiling and in the corners.

The Loggia of the Baptistry is located on the left side of the Basilica and dates from the 14th century.  At one time this was a small cloister and then an oratory it contains the baptismal font which prior to 1632 had stood in the Basilica next to the door in the right nave. 

During World War II, this church was badly damaged, and it wasn’t until 1951 that restoration took place. The church contains relics of Saint Geminianus, the patron saint after which the city is named.


                                                           The Nave


Frescoes on Side Walls       Chapels           


              Main Altar Chapel of Santa Fina


16th century organ with its pietra serna balcony



              All  Photographs were taken by and are copyright of Ron Gatepain

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