The Romanesque church of San Lorenzo al Ponte is one of the oldest in San Gimignano, having been built, most likely on the remains of an older construction, in the thirteenth century. Its name comes from the fact that it stands near a drawbridge, which once led from the ancient palace of the Bishop of Volterra onto the piazza della Cisterna.
Since the beginning of the fourteenth century its left side has been flanked by a little portico, which perhaps started life as a simple canopy designed to keep bad weather off a fresco of the Madonna and Child in Glory. The body of the Virgin, the Baby Jesus and the garland of angels in glory comes from later fifteenth-century brushstrokes, but Mary's face was painted by Simone Martini, a prime exponent of the Sienese gothic.
Because of the popular devotion that this sacred image aroused, the portico was expanded at the start of the fifteenth century right along the side of the church; an oratory was also built alongside it.
Both the church and the portico are extensively decorated with frescos, applied at the start of the 1410s by the Florentine painter Cenni di Francesco di Ser Cenni. The theme of the cycle is that of life in the world beyond, and its keystone is the church's patron saint San Lorenzo, who is depicted as saving souls in Purgatory. Through little hints and details, the artist creates a vivid afterworld, whether Hell, Purgatory or Paradise.