The foundation of the church, although still uncertain, probably dates back to the first half of the twelfth century when we find reference in a document to a church consecrated to San Paolo built on a free piece of land outside the second city wall.
The structures and size of that original church can be made out in the apse and sacristy of the present Gothic building. The more ancient church of San Paolo (of which significant traces are found at the back) was enlarged in the first half of the thirteenth century, but only after the city wall was destroyed, could the church expand to its present size.
Thus the former nave was transformed into a large chapel that opens on to the presbytery, with altars and rich decorations seen in the frescos that have been recently discovered and restored.
San Paolo was redone in the Baroque period with the creation of altars (of which only the high altar and two side ones remain today), confessionals and the presbytery stairway with its pietra serena balustrade.
The church is a beautiful example of Gothic architecture in which echoes of the traditional Pistoian polychromy can still be seen. The facade is embellished by the pinnacled doorway in white marble where a statue of Saint Paul is placed at the center. Along the nave we encounter works of art from different periods including: the late fourteenth century fresco depicting the Madonna of Humility attributed to the Pistoian artist Antonio Vite; the Holy Conversation by Fra' Paolino, painted during the first half of the 1500s for the high altar in the church of San Domenico the canvas by Paolo De Matteis, a follower of Luca Giordano, depicting Christ in Glory and Saint Gaetano of Thiene.
The seventeenth century layout was upset by work done in the 1800s in the neo-Gothic style that was in vogue at the time. All the altars, except the three mentioned above, were removed; some windows were walled up and others opened; the vault of the apse and the wings of the trancept were changed; the chantry and the chapels of the Rosary and of the Cross, were made smaller; the organ and the choir were moved.
At the end of the century a terrible fire caused great damage to the building and its furnishings. About a hundred years. after that tragic event, the church regained new splendor after a series of restorations which saw the addition of a new work: the modem stained glass windows by the Pistoian painter Umberto Buscioni.
Located next to the church, the Oratory of Saint Gaetano was built for the Compagnia dei Disciplinati in the late 1300s. Because of the many renovations that it has undergone, the building conserves none of its original appearance.
What we see today is the result of a plan that, legend tells, was drawn by Gian Lorenzo Bernini who was working in the church of the Santo Spirito,in the seventeenth century, but there is no document to confirm this attribution.
Corso Silvano Fedi - Pistoia
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