Cascina, Zambra | Church of San Jacopo

Zambra is a village of medieval origin, although the toponym identifies it with an Etruscan origin (Zambra = Sem rhu = fortified place). Located on the right bank of the Arno river, it took its name from the Zambra stream that crossed it. The center of the town was on the small square in front of the church, still called “Piazza del Trebbio” today. Already in 1277 two settlements were attested: one of S. Iacopo and the other of Santa Maria, separated by the Zambra stream, each with its own church. In the 16th century, the Arno, which in that stretch ran straight across the plain towards Pisa, was diverted with a large bend to slow down the current which had repeatedly threatened to destroy the city. This deviation, which is the current course of the Arno, meant that the stream no longer divided the two churches, both on the left bank of the river, but that it lapped the walls of the church of Santa Maria, threatening its stability so much that it collapsed in 1599 .

The church of S. Iacopo retains the original layout with a single rectangular hall with a single apse. It has a façade built in different phases with blocks of limestone and verrucana, coming from Monte Pisano. The interior has a simple nave in verrucan stone, once completely painted. In the apse there is a single-lancet window, preceded by niches which were used for lighting with oil lamps. In the church there is a small decapitated marble statue and another marble figure of a man holding a cross (known by the improper name of Saint John), judged to be a poor imitation of the Christ of Minerva in Rome. The church of Sant’Iacopo is one of the rare and precious early medieval churches. After a careful restoration in the seventies, it still preserves legible (the only case present in Italy) a rare example of early Christian wall painting – monochrome in minium – on a background of white lime spread on the stones with symbolic figures and inscriptions of early Christian inspiration. The inscriptions in the apse area and along the left nave are contained in quadratures arranged mostly in horizontal bands. Among the drawings we note the presence of various fish (the first believers were called pisciculi), some of which are crowned: a symbol of the presence of Christ in those who have been baptized. Also noteworthy is the representation of two trees on which an eagle and a stork perch. The images alternate with biblical verses taken from Ecclesiastes, and a Hail Mary on the wall of the apse arch.

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