The Chapel of Sant’Agata is located in Pisa, at the back of the Church of San Paolo a Ripa d’Arno.
The cult of Saint Agata
It seems that the cult of Saint Agata arrived in Pisa probably with the liberation of Catania from the Saracens. The first document to attest to this is that of Pope Honorius II (21 July 1126), who allowed the Archbishop of Pisa to celebrate the feast of St Agatha on 5 February. On that date and for the next two days, the saint’s alleged skull was exhibited and is still preserved in the church of San Paolo a Ripa d’Arno. At the end of the 19th century, its display still aroused great devotion on the part of nursing mothers. The importance of the cult is also testified by the octagonal oratory dedicated to her, built within the monastic complex around the middle of the 12th century.
Small in size, it has an equilateral octagonal plan, surmounted by a pyramid-shaped spire made entirely of bricks. The rest of the structure is also made of bricks, the sides of which are marked by pillars and blind round arches on a square stone base, the height of which gradually increases from east to west, indicating a probable reconstruction of the original structure.
The entrance is on the westernmost side facing the Church of St. Paolo, while the four façades have three-mullioned windows with columns and marble capitals supporting brick arches surmounted by an oculus.
Pisa’s other octagonal monuments
In Pisa, the Church of the Santo Sepolcro (Holy Sepulchre), on the Lungarno Galilei, also has an octagonal plan and has been documented since 1138. In fact, the shape of the two buildings recalls both the Templum Domini – as the Crusaders called the Dome of the Rock on the Temple esplanade in Jerusalem – and the aedicule above Christ’s tomb. They were joined by the Baptistery in Piazza dei Miracoli, which repeats the measurements and number of supports of the Anastasis in Jerusalem, the place of Christ’s burial and resurrection.
In Pisa alone, therefore, we can admire three buildings closely linked to Jerusalem, most likely built by the Pisan architect Diotisalvi, which show how relations with the Holy Land, often seen from an exclusively commercial point of view, also involved cultural and religious spheres.