If I were ever made a saint (highly unlikely), I would wish for two things: to have Lucca as my final resting place and to be remembered each spring with beautiful flowers. Alas, that version of sainthood is already taken by someone far more deserving. But at least I get to enjoy that saint’s feast day each spring.
Santa Zita is the patron saint of Lucca. She was born nearby, in the 13th century, to a poor but devout family. As a girl, she entered service in the home of a well-to-do Lucchese family, the Fatinellis. Unmarried, she worked for the family for 50 years until her death in 1272.
Zita was known for her devotion and good works, especially in caring for the poor. This, however, did not always sit well with her employers or co-workers, especially because her good works often included giving away their bread, leftover food, and sometimes their clothing. It’s also said she sometimes neglected her morning bread baking duties to attend daily Mass (saintly, perhaps, but most annoying to her co-workers).
As the story goes, the other household servants were jealous of her goodness and reported her “theft” of bread to the head of the family. One day, when he asked her what she was hiding in her apron (which was, of course, the bread she was taking to the poor), she answered that it was just flowers (luckily, this little white lie did not preclude later sainthood). When he demanded to be shown, she opened her apron and out tumbled flowers - a miracle!
There are other miracles associated with Santa Zita, including the notion that angels staffed the Fatinelli kitchen, baking the bread while Zita went to church at nearby San Frediano.
Legend has it that when she died, the bells of San Frediano began ringing on their own. Zita was buried soon after and her legend quickly grew. Several hundred years after her death, her body was moved from its grave to her own chapel in the church of San Frediano (the chapel was built by a later generation of Fatinellis). When exhumed, it was discovered that her body had not deteriorated but had spontaneously become mummified, another miracle. In 1696 she was made a saint by the Catholic Church.
Today, her remains lie inside a glass coffin in San Frediano. Once a year, to mark the April 27 anniversary of her death, her coffin is moved to the central part of the church, where it is surrounded by flowers and candles. Small bunches of flowers are sold in the church and people hold them as they pass by her body, reverently laying their hands on the coffin. Whether religious or superstitious, it seems to me very good luck to join in, lightly touching the glass of the coffin, and wishing to be back in Lucca for the next celebration. So far, that has always worked for me!
As part of the Festa di Santa Zita, there are also floral displays in the piazza in front of San Frediano and a colorful flower market inside the nearby amphitheater square, making the week of April 27 a lovely time to be in Lucca. -post by JMB