The holy face of
On the 13 September Luminara di Santa Croce takes place, a
religious procession, which dates back over a Millennium,
during which the locals pay homage to the Holy Face, the
patron saint of Lucca.
But what is the Holy Face?
This large wooden crucifix, 2 and a half metres tall, is
kept in the Church of San Frediano, and depicts a singular
Christ, known as "Black Christ of the Lucchesi".
an unusual representation of Jesus: he has long, loose
hair, a moustache and beard, a long nose and rather long feet.
His eyes are open and round and he appears to follow you with
his eyes. According to an ancient legend ascribed to the deacon
Leobino, the Holy Face was carved by Nicodemus, a follower of
Jesus, This holy man is mentioned in the Gospel of John, after
the resurrection and Ascension of Christ, and was the author of
an apocryphal gospel. He had been given the task of sculpting
the face of Christ because he was thought to be one of the few
who were able bring it into the circle of the Nazarene.
According to legend, he went to sleep one evening, tired after
having scultped the body, and left the head to be sculpted. When
he woke up, by some miracle, the crucifix had been completed.
Because of persecution, the sculpture was hidden in a
subterranean cave and there remained abandoned for centuries.
700 years, the face was found in Palestine where it was
determined that a crew-less ship would have brought the Holy
Face to Christian lands; wherever the ship landed would be
deemed the Divine Providence. The ship, after crossing the
Mediterranean, came in near Luni (near the current Sarzana).
During the same period, St. John I Bishop of Lucca, had a dream,
a vision, in which he saw the imminent arrival of the crucifix.
Along with the faithful and the Lucchesi, he went to the port of
Luni to help greet the ship’s arrival. The ship, however, seemed
to resist their attempts to get closer, and only when the Bishop
called on God's help, did the ship head spontaneously towards
them. This legend explains how the cross ended up in Lucca’s
possession. During the festivities in honour of the Holy Face,
public lights are turned off and the facades of houses and
buildings are adorned with light, lit by thousands of candles
In the Middle Ages the city grew significantly thanks to the
presence of the Holy Face (Il Volto Santo), a venerated relic
representing the crucified Christ, which is kept in the
Cathedral of San Martino today. The presence of this sacred
artifact made Lucca an essential stopping point for pilgrims
on their way from Rome to Canterbury on the ancient Via
Francigena, (Lucca was the stage n. 26). The Francigena was
at the time one of the most important transport routes in Europe.
The sacred and the
and after the procession, various events are held in the city.
An important fair is held from mid-September until the end of
the month, in different locations around the city: the Foro
Boario (on Via Per Camaiore, the same place where the Saturday
farmer's market takes place), Borgo Giannotti (a historical
artisan quarter just outside the city walls) and the so-called
Area delle Tagliate. The cattle fair is held on the 14 September
in the Serchio River Park, a market with an ancient flavour:
with horses, donkeys, cows, ducks and birds. The fair is
repeated on the 21 and 29 October (day of Saint Matthew and
Saint Michael). The antiques and crafts market is held in the
historic centre. For children there is also an amusement park in
Via delle Tagliate (Piazzale Don Baroni) throughout the month of
September. Also in Via delle Tagliate, there is a large car park
on the left, just after the amusement park. On the 14 July there
is a fireworks display in the evening, visible from the walls,
Dante and the Holy Face
Dante mentioned the Holy Face in the twenty-first Canto of the
Inferno; he spoke of a Lucchese magistrate, Martin Bottaio,
accused by many of his colleagues of putting his personal
interests ahead of justice. For this, the great poet throws him
into boiling black oil as a punishment for all of his defects
and limitations and as a warning to all of Lucca’s ruling
elite. In seeking salvation, Martin Bottaio turns to the Holy
face for salvation. The demons remind him that Hell is a place
where the Holy Face does not exist and that burning oil is very
different to the fresh water of the Serchio to which he was
accustomed! Dante was from Florence and was Ghibelline and had a
grudge against the Lucchesi Guelphs and their politicians, thus
his interpretation was subjective.
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