The holy face of Lucca

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The holy face of Lucca 

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".

Il Volto Santo a LuccaIt's 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.

Il Volto Santo a LuccaAfter 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 and flames.

Ebook di LuccaIn 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 profane

Il Volto Santo a LuccaBefore 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, from 11.30pm.

Curiosities
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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