Italy at Easter

Several years ago I learned an Italian saying, "Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi." This roughly translates to “Christmas with your family, Easter with whomever you like." I take this idea seriously. I wouldn't dream of missing Christmas with my children and grandchildren, but whenever possible I spend Easter in Italy, sharing the holiday with friends. 

This year marks my third Italian Easter; one of my favorite times to visit. I love marking the change of seasons in Italy, watching as Tuscany slowly moves from winter to spring. When I arrived at the beginning of March, Lucca had quiet streets, bare trees and vines, and brisk weather (including my first Italian snowfall).

March remained mostly cold and rainy, but slowly, over the past week, spring has started to tiptoe in. On one of the first warmer days outdoor seating suddenly spilled into the squares from cafes. 

IMG_2129.JPG

Overnight, the atmosphere in town changed. People filled the streets and cafes, beautifully decorated Easter window displays appeared, outdoor vendors set up stands to sell sweets and balloons, the walls surrounding Lucca began to buzz with activity, and the first tentative spring blossoms surfaced. It seems Lucca has awakened from its winter rest.  

IMG_2124.JPG

The last week of March was Holy Week - the week leading up to Easter. It began with Palm Sunday events, including the blessing of palms and olive branches and services in many of the local churches. Venerdì Santo (Good Friday) saw the traditional procession in Lucca in which a heavy wooden crucifix is carried through the streets by black-robed and barefoot members of the Misericordia. This is a solemn event made even more dramatic by the backdrop of Lucca’s Medieval streetscapes. I always find the procession moving, meaningful, and uniquely Italian.

Good Friday was also celebrated with an evening concert at the Cattedrale di San Michele in which a small symphony played the Stabat Mater, with lyrics (in Latin) from the 13th century and music composed by Boccherini (who was born in Lucca in 1743). The church was full, the soprano sang beautifully, and the music was (no pun intended) divine. 

IMG_2130.JPG

Today is Easter. I’ll walk through town this morning to a favorite pasticceria to pick up a desert for today’s lunch (perhaps a pretty cake like the one pictured here) and then I’ll get busy cooking for the friends who are coming for lunch this afternoon. We'll be enjoying “Pasqua con chi vuoi."

Buona Pasqua.  Happy Easter to all who celebrate it - and happy Passover and Happy Spring too! 

-post by JMB

The Easter flower market in Lucca

The Easter flower market in Lucca

The Legend of the Volto Santo (Holy Face)

This painting, in the church of San Frediano, depicts the arrival of the Volto Santo, in an ox drawn cart, to Lucca. 

This painting, in the church of San Frediano, depicts the arrival of the Volto Santo, in an ox drawn cart, to Lucca. 

Italy is a country full of mysterious legends. This is certainly true in Lucca - there are legends about deals made with the devil, of a saintly housekeeper and her miracle, of stone pillars mysteriously bent but not broken, of rivers diverted by prayer. Not far from Lucca is a stone bridge supposedly built with help from the devil himself.  Fascinating!

Perhaps the most important legend in Lucca is that of the Volto Santo (Holy Face), a wooden crucifix said to be carved by Nicodemus shortly after the resurrection of Christ. As the legend goes, Nicodemus carved the body of Christ, but fell asleep before carving the face. When he awoke, the face was miraculously completed. The crucifix was then hidden for some 700 years at which time it was discovered, loaded onto an unmanned ship, set to sea, and eventually landed on the coast of Italy. From there, a cart steered only by oxen brought the crucifix (another miracle) to Lucca where it has remained ever since. Many miracles have been associated with the crucifix and pilgrims traveling the Via Francigena, between Rome and Canterbury, often included a stop in Lucca to see the Volto Santo.

The Volto Santo crucifix, clad in gold vestements for the Santa Croce Festival, Lucca, Italy. 

The Volto Santo crucifix, clad in gold vestements for the Santa Croce Festival, Lucca, Italy. 

 Today, this unique work of art is housed in a small gated chapel within the San Martino cathedral and has a dedicated celebration, the Festival of Santa Croce (Holy Cross), held every year in mid-September. This is the most important festival of the year in Lucca and during this time the Christ figure on the crucifix is dressed in gold vestments, including a gold crown, collar, belt, and shoes. It is also the one time of year when the gates to the chapel are opened, allowing people to pass through right in front of the crucifix. 

 

 

Candles light the buildings for the Luminaria di Santa Croce Festival. 

Candles light the buildings for the Luminaria di Santa Croce Festival. 

Luminaria light Piazza San Michele, Sept 2016.

Luminaria light Piazza San Michele, Sept 2016.

The highlight of the Santa Croce festival takes place on the night of September 13th with a stunningly beautiful procession in which luminaria (candles) outline the windows and arches of the buildings along the route. The procession includes townspeople, priests and bishops, the misericordia and red cross, community leaders, school children, people in medieval costumes, musicians and singers. Many carry candles, torches, or other religious objects. There is also a special mass in the cathedral the following day.

The candle lit procession is spectacular to see.

The candle lit procession is spectacular to see.

I was fortunate to be in Lucca for this year's Luminaria di Santa Croce. Whether here for the history, religious significance, or sheer beauty of this event, it is a moving experience to witness a procession whose history reaches back to medieval times.              Post by JMB

Some of the marchers are dressed in medieval costume. 

Some of the marchers are dressed in medieval costume. 

FA76B62E-C437-43F1-B251-19477D978CD1.JPG