Three great churches of Lucca
Lucca is known as the city of a hundred churches. Inside the Renaissance walls there is a rich heritage of religious architecture, small oratories, private chapels of noble palaces and large churches, architectural and artistic heritage, as well as religious.
Three large churches, among others, tell the story of the centuries of the Middle Ages, a period far from dark, but rich and fruitful for the history, economy and culture of the city. The Longobards and then the Carolingians, the Goths from the north and east, those monks who, according to legend, brought with them the little worms that produced the silk and fortune of Lucca and that produced an original and rich culture summarized as in an illustrated story on the facades of the churches.
The church of St. Michael and the cathedral of St. Martin collect suggestions of every known time and place. Among oriental colonnades and Nordic decorations, some want to see the patterns of weaves and warps beaten by the famous weavers of Lucca: brocades, damasks, flames.
La chiesa di San Michele The church of San Michele stands at the point where the city itself stands: the ancient forum of the Roman city, from which the thistle and decumanus maximus were born, the streets that ordered the fabric of the city and still survive in the path of the streets on the south side and back of the church.
Coeval to the church of San Martino, however, the church of San Michele has a more harmonious design, cultured proportions, erudite quotations in the shapes and decorations.
On the façade there are inlays, bas-reliefs, sculptures, many Christian and pre-Christian symbols, Masonic symbols, esoteric and scientific symbols. Animals and plants, human, historical and mythological beings, careless sirens, Sagittarians, griffon vultures. On the top, between two angels, the great statue of St. Michael, Saint, Archangel and warrior, in the act of killing the Dragon.
One is struck, as happened to the poet Ruskin during his visit to Lucca, to see them together with the portraits of Count Cavour, the Supreme Poet Dante and other modern characters positioned at the top of the columns during the first restoration of the nineteenth century.
On the south side, medieval graffiti of ships and cities of the East testify to the use of the square as a market. It is not a waste of time to dedicate some time and curiosity to it.
More concrete and dynamic the design of the cathedral San Martino which gathers in the rich iconographic apparatus, images of daily life: the pilgrims' path, the work of the fields, the trades that will bear the name of Lucca in all future Europe.
The church is dedicated to San Martino da Tour, very famous for the episode of the cloak shared with the poor man, depicted on the facade with a large equestrian sculpture that until the 17th century was decorated to celebrate the name day and "the summer of San Martino" (11 November).
The façade of the church is a version of the more complex San Michele, with evident asymmetries, intersecting volumes, contrasting full and empty spaces. In one corner, among the many depictions, is the "portrait" of the architect Guido, author of the 14th century renovation.
It`s easier to identify the mystical labyrinth carved, always on the facade, as a vow, a profession of faith, a memory of the passage of the many pilgrims on their way to Rome.
The interior is a precious casket that preserves what is most dear to the people of Lucca: the Holy Face, the crucifix carved into the wood miraculously arrived in Lucca, centuries ago. Devotional icon, miraculous image, pilgrimage destination, symbol and protection of the people of Lucca wherever they are in the world, is the object of greatest devotion of the people of Lucca. In his honor is held every September the procession of the Luminara, which has always been attended by all the people of Lucca "Drento e Fora".
He is accompanied by the beautiful Ilaria del Carretto. The sarcophagus, sculpted at the beginning of the 15th century by Jacopo della Quercia, is currently kept in the sacristy. It is the homage of her husband, Paolo Guinigi, lord of the city in the 15th century, on the occasion of his untimely death.
La basilica di San Frediano, is finally, the most austere and linked to tradition. Sober and imposing, it mentions the Orient in the basilica plan and in the great mosaic that adorns the facade: the bell tower with Guelph battlements forms the background.
The elegant and bright interior is the guardian of the cult of San Frediano, whose stories tell of his ability to dominate the material: he moves rivers and huge stones with only the empire of his word. The river is the Serchio, and the episode is illustrated in the Aspertini chapel, near the side door, on the left. The stone is the large canteen, currently leaning against the wall next to the high altar.
At the entrance of the church there is the beautiful Romanesque baptismal font. A large basin decorated by two different authors with scenes from the life of Moses that follow one another in a very lively and fast story. More calm and mysterious are the figures that occupy the ordered space of an architecture in which some read the symbols of the planets, others those of the virtues. In the centre the cup and lid with representations of the months of the year and the apostles.
In the nearby chapel, you can visit St. Zita. The little Saint of the Flowers, who lived in Lucca in the 13th century and mentioned by Dante in his Divine Comedy as an example of welcoming and generous Lucca. Her body has miraculously preserved and is kept inside a shrine.
Along the walls, the story of the Saint's life and the numerous miracles. The best known, in which her faith transformed bread into flowers, is the one that inspired the celebrations in her honour on April 27th: a large flower market in the nearby amphitheatre and flower arrangements in all the squares of Lucca.