The Sanctuary of the Pietrina is located at the southern end of the Benestare Park, established by the municipalities of Montaione and Gambassi Terme to indicate the environmental beauty of the area.
It stands on Poggio Spadone, one of the oldest and most mineralised Palaeozoic formations in Tuscany.
To reach the sanctuary, it is necessary to climb a steep road leading to Palagio and then to the remains of the ancient Pietrina Castle, at the foot of which lies a permanent nativity scene.
To the side, stands the small church, essential in its stone construction, with a single nave and a roof with trusses.
It is dedicated to Saints Agatha and Andrew, depicted in two terracotta statues inside two niches, at the side of the entrance door.
The Pietrina is famous among the local worshippers for the Madonna delle Grazie, to whom they usually leave a votive offering.
The picture on display is a copy of the sacred image, painted on wood in the 14th century by the Siénese painter Bartolo di Fredi, a pupil of Simone Martini; the original is preserved at the Bishop's Palace in Volterra and returns to the sanctuary every year, carried in procession, on the last Sunday of September.
In 1988, the year of the restoration of the sacred building of the 'Pietrina', the chapel was declared a 'Marian Shrine', and in 2018 Pope Francis granted plenary indulgence to the faithful of this place of worship, as a sign of the great value attributed to this sanctuary for the salvation of souls.
The name of Pietrina is mentioned for the first time in a document from 1118; more reliable information is found from the 14th century onwards, when the castle of Pietra was conquered by San Gimignano, and later subjugated to Florence.
In 1835 it became permanently part of the municipality of Montaione.
The sanctuary is guarded by a group of local volunteers. It is always open and has become a tourist destination, also because from this hilltop one of the most evocative panoramas in Tuscany can be enjoyed, overlooking the Valdera hills, all the way to the sea.
Translated by @alessandrafalai