Luminaria Festival in Lucca: The 13th September marks an important day
On the calendar for the people of Lucca as they take to the streets holding candles to celebrate the Luminaria di Santa Croce. While the origins of the this famous festival in Tuscany are not fully known, some people believe that it is a traditional event that was originally held to celebrate the merchants of the area, while others believe it has its roots in a religious ceremony. Today, it is a major celebration that sees crowds of people come together on the quaint cobblestone streets of Lucca beneath the bright illumination of hundreds of candles set onto the facades of Lucca’s historic buildings.
At the heart of the feast of Luminaria di Santa Croce is a wooden sculpture of Jesus that is known as the “il Volto Santo.” Legend has it that this sculpture was crafted by Nicodemus, one of Jesus’ disciples. It was lost at some time during the 8th century but made its way home to Lucca in 742. Throughout the year, it is stored inside the Cathedral of San Martino (the Duomo of Lucca), in a special chapel called a “tempietto” that was specially constructed by Matteo Civitali in 1482 to house this ancient relic. Since the 11th century, Countless Christians and religious figures have made a pilgrimage to the Cathedral of San Martino to pay homage to the sculpture, and it has become a well-known symbol of Lucca.
During the festival
The Volto Santo is paraded through the medieval streets of Lucca along with other religious and ancient artefacts as the pageant passes from the Basilica of San Frediano to the Duomo. People line the streets holding candles aloft to light the way and watch the procession. Every religious and civil representative of the area take part in the cortège, as well as crossbowmen and people dressed in traditional medieval costumes.
During the afternoon of the day of the festival, workmen toil to install candles on the facades of the buildings that line the procession route. During the procession itself, all artificial street lamps are turned off, and the only light in the town is emitted from these candles and those that the faithful carry as they parade through the streets singing spiritual and traditional songs. The next day, the feast of the Holy Cross, a high mass is celebrated in the Cathedral of San Martino.
The Luminaria di Santa Croce marks just one event in the month-long Santa Croce Festival, which the locals refer to as “Settembre lucchese” or “Lucca’s September.” Throughout the month, various celebrations, cultural events, fairs, concerts, and musical shows take place. A special marketplace is also set up next to San Michele in Foro, the ancient Roman forum, at which visitors can purchase memorabilia, speciality foods, local foods, and clothing.
Read about Vinci in Tuscany in the next post