Lucca, Sunday afternoon

This note has remained on a wall of Lucca since Christmas: “The Banca del Monte of Lucca wishes a merry Christmas and happy new year to all the customers ruined by them.”

Recently we recounted how the Pisans, invading in 1114 the Muslim Mallorca, took from the mosque of Medina Mayurka – today’s Palma – the two red porphyry columns which today adorn the front door of the Baptistery of the Florence Cathedral. The Pisans offered them to Florence as a token of gratitude for the Florentines’ having defended in the absence of the Pisan army the city of Pisa from any perfidious intention of the neighboring Lucca. The truth is that in those years the Pisan army often undertook various adventures, especially by sea, from where they returned with a rich booty. Not so those of Lucca who chose to make their (fabulous) fortune by the arts of diplomacy, shrewdness, industry (mostly silk), finances and speculations. The mint of Lucca was the only one who dared to coin a currency with the portrait of Christ (we will soon understand why), and this currency often served as a reference value all over the medieval and Renaissance Europe, as it is attested by phrases like “L’oro di Bologna a passar da Lucca si vergogna” – “The gold of Bologna is ashamed when passing through Lucca”.


Another memorable booty of the Pisan army is from the time of the first crusade, from where they returned with the precious relics of St. Nicodemus, now preserved in the Cathedral of Pisa. Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin, and the Gospel of John reports on his conversion to Christ and his contribution with a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloe to embalming the body of Christ. However, at the same time the inhabitants of Lucca did not need to leave the safety and quiet of their town on the banks of the Serchio to obtain even better relics. The story is recounted like this by the De inventione, revelatione ac translatione Sanctissimi Vultu:
After Nicodemus helped Joseph of Arimathea to take down Christ from the cross and to prepare His body for burial, he wanted to make a wooden sculpture that would preserve the living memory of the body and face of Christ. He carved the body, but then hesitated and did not dare to begin to form the head. Tired and sad for the difficulty of the task, he fell asleep. While sleeping, angels finished the work. It is said that after Nicodemus was martyred, the crucifix remained forgotten for generations, hidden deep in a cave, until an angel appeared to the good bishop Subalpinus, and told him to go to the Mount Kidron where he would find the sculpture in the cave. The angel also commanded him to immediately build a tabernacle in the form of a ship, put the crucifix inside and let it on the sea, as God would lead it to its destination. When the bishop let the ship on the waves, a gentle wind arose with a special aroma, as if all the spices of the world had been united. And the ship arrived to the Tuscan coast, where it was spotted by a Genoese ship who wanted to seize it, but in vain they chased it for several days, they could not get even near to it. In the end, they reached it in the port of Luni, but again they tried to get on it without success for several days. The bishop of Luni then offered a large reward to whoever could catch the ship, but it was all in vain. Meanwhile, the bishop of Lucca was visited by another angel who said him: “Gather your people and go with them to the beach of Luni to receive the gift that God sends you. And do not forget to be generous with the Bishop of Luni when you see what is inside the cross.” When the good bishop of Lucca with his entourage arrived in Luni, where already all the sailors were laying exhausted, the first they did was to kneel down and pray in the sand. And suddenly a scented air arose, as if all the flowers of the world had been united, and the ship came by itself near to them. The bishop pulled it from the sea with his own hand as if it weighed less than a feather, opened its seals and found in it the tabernacle of the True Cross and the Holy Face carved by St. Nicodemus with the help of angels. Then he looked inside the cross and found a scroll with its history, and another with the story of its discovery by Bishop Subalpinus, furthermore a piece of the crown of thorns, a remnant of the garment of Christ, a nail from His cross, a phial with the blood of Christ and the Holy Shroud. The bishop of Lucca gave the phial with the Holy Blood to the bishop of Luni. But, as expected, it was not enough to settle the arguments over the ownership of the venerable objects. Thus the bishop of Lucca proposed that, as it happened until then, the will of God should decide. They put the tabernacle and all its contents in a chariot drawn by two white oxen, and the beasts without hesitation took the road to Lucca and did not stop until they reached the door of the church of Saint Martin. And so the Volto Santo has since become a symbol and religious focus of Lucca and the origin of their great feasts, and its image adorns the currency of the city of Lucca.
The fact is that in Catalonia you can hear the same story. The inhabitants of the town of Balaguer argue that it is they who preserve the Christ of Nicodemus which came floating on the waves of the sea from Beirut where it had been hiding, to the delta of the Ebro, then upstream the river and its tributary, the little Segre to the town of Balaguer along the river. Also in this case, God allowed only to the abbess of the Poor Clares to take it out of the water and to keep it in the church. Perhaps this anecdote highlights a difference between Italy, which has always succeeded in exploiting its symbolic resources, and Spain – in this case, Catalonia – where there is a greater tendency to put things away, to keep reticence and, ultimately, to be along history always some steps behind Italy. A proof is the great reputation of the Volto Santo of Lucca as opposed to the Cristo of Balaguer, which is barely known by the villages of the region.

Lucca is always worth a visit, especially in September, during the feast of La Luminara
celebrated in honor of the Volto Santo. We were there on a quiet
Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks ago.






6 comentarios:

Γιώργο Μπατζιλή dijo...

This note means perhaps the Banc culture of the clients
que si rinascono nell prossimo anno con l' aiuto delle banche sponde,

Studiolum dijo...

Ναι, καλή τράπεζα σκέφτεται το μέλλον…

one-way dijo...

great story

when will you start publishing them in russian as well? :)

Studiolum dijo...

with your help (i.e. in the revision of my translations) even immediately…

one-way dijo...

my part will be easy - your russian is very good

Anónimo dijo...

“L’oro di Bologna a passar da Lucca si vergogna”

It is a bit more complicated than that. The so-called "Bologna gold" was fake gold, a cheap alloy (copper and other baser metals). It looked like gold but in the long run (perhaps as long as it took to go from Bologna to Lucca) the golden surface would wear off showing the red underneath, just as the Bologna gold was blushing for shame.

Viviana