Pisa: Santa Caterina d’Alessandria

Santa Caterina d’Alessandria.

There is a lot to see in the church of Santa Caterina in Pisa, if in fact you CAN see it. When I visited the church in April of 2023, it was pitch dark inside. Moreover, one of the most important artworks of the church had gone missing without a trace. This is a work that is attributed to the painter Lippo Memmi (died 1356) from Siena. His Triumph of Saint Thomas Aquinas, painted in 1323, even has its own page on Wikipedia. It is possible that the painter Francesco Traini also contributed to the work (with some going so far as to attribute it entirely to him). In any case, the panel painting should be on the left wall, but all I found there was an empty spot. Perhaps the work was being restored or maybe it has been moved to a museum. However this all may be, the tomb of archbishop Simone Saltarelli, also on the left side of the church, now caught my eye. It was made by Nino Pisano (ca. 1315-1370), the son of the famous sculptor and architect Andrea Pisano (ca. 1290-1348).


In 1220 the Dominicans under one Uguccione Sardo settled in Pisa. They were granted an existing complex with a church and hospice. In the middle of the thirteenth century this complex was thoroughly renovated and enlarged. It was then that the church of Santa Caterina acquired its distinctive shape. The church is a large open space without aisles. The transept is all the way at the back of the building, which therefore has the form of a large T. This allowed the Dominicans to let in huge masses to listen to their sermons. The five chapels of the Santa Caterina are all in the transept. In the nave we only find a couple of side altars.

Mosaic of the façade.

Interior of the church.

The façade of the church was completed in 1326. The lower part is still Romanesque, with the familiar rounded arches, but the two loggias above it are clearly Gothic in style. It should be noted that the façade is not entirely original. Between 1921 and 1927 restoration work was carried out, which among other things led to the installation of the current rose window (which seems to have a slightly different colour). The colourful mosaic in the portal above the main entrance is also clearly not medieval. The mosaic shows us the Madonna and Child, and mentions the name of cardinal Pietro Maffi, who between 1903 and 1931 served as archbishop of Pisa. The maker of the mosaic, which was completed in 1930, was Vittorio Bagnoli.

In 1651 the Santa Caterina was struck by a large fire, which necessitated large-scale restoration works and – inevitably – led to additions in the style of the Baroque. At the end of the eighteenth century Grand Duke Leopold I (1765-1790) closed down the Dominican convent, turning the Santa Caterina into a parish church. Twentieth-century restorations have more or less given the church back its medieval appearance.


Stained glass window with saints.

The high altar is situated in the central chapel at the back of the church. Below it we see a sarcophagus that contains (or used to contain[1]) the mortal remains of brother Giordano da Pisa, also known as Giordano da Rivalto (ca. 1260-1311). This famous Dominican preacher was beatified in 1838 by Pope Gregorius XVI (1831-1846). He is also depicted on the beautiful stained glass windows of the central chapel. These were made between 1922 and 1924 by the Zettler company from Munich, which had been founded in 1871 by the German glassmaker Franz Xaver Zettler (1841-1916). Giordano is part of a row of saints that includes Saint Lawrence, Pope Eugenius III (1145-1153) and one Blessed Claire. She is Chiara da Pisa (1362-1419), known for her care for the poor and sick. Pope Eugenius was evidently included because he was also from Pisa. The top four saints are Thomas Aquinas, Saint Rainerius (ca. 1115-1160), Saint Dominicus and Saint Torpes. Rainerius (San Ranieri) is the patron saint of Pisa, while the obscure Saint Torpes (Saint-Tropez in French) is supposedly a Christian martyr from Pisa from the first century CE.

It is now time to take a look at the tomb of archbishop Simone Saltarelli. Saltarelli served as archbishop of Pisa between 1323 and 1342. He was a member of the Dominican order, so it was hardly surprising that his final resting place would be in the church of Santa Caterina, which at the time had been a Dominican church for well over a century. Starting from Saltarelli’s death in 1342, Nino Pisano and his assistants worked on the monument for some three years. Nino’s father Andrea was probably not or at most marginally involved in the project. As he was lead architect of the new Duomo of Florence at the time, he would have had other things on his mind.

Funerary monument of Simone Saltarelli – Nino Pisano.

The monument is composed of four storeys. At the bottom we see three reliefs, with another two at the two sides of the monument. The front reliefs tell stories from the life of the archbishop, who is recognisable by his mitre. Unfortunately I have not been able to establish which stories have been depicted. Above the reliefs the effigy of the deceased rests under a colonnade, of which the curtains are held open by two angels. Up another level we see two Dominican saints and reliefs featuring angels and the resurrection of the deceased. Lastly, topping the monument are a Madonna and Child and two angels. The funerary monument was damaged in the 1651 fire, but fortunately it appears to be in pretty good shape today.

Funerary monument of Simone Saltarelli (detail) – Nino Pisano.

Further reading: Church of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria | Comune di Pisa – Turismo


[1] The relics were probably moved to the church of San Giuseppe, elsewhere in Pisa.

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  1. Pingback:Pisa: Museo dell’Opera del Duomo – – Corvinus –

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