Cattedrale di San Martino | Lucca

The San Michele in Foro Basilica in the centre of Lucca is beautiful.  It’s surrounded by cafes for the people to use as a kind of external viewing area for the cathedral. And that along with the oval town square are all that most people visit Lucca for… 

But once a year the Luminara di Sante Croce festival takes place, and the attention of visitors to this medieval Tuscan town, changes to the eqully stunning Duomo di San Martino and its medieval contents.

The cathedral isn’t quite as ornate as the Siena Cathedral, and not as cavernous as the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, but it is exceptional.

The inside is cold and the air smells of old stone and the staleness of the crypt that resides beneath the marble floor. Much of the noise is the hushed tones of subdued talking and the muttering of quickly spoken prayers offered by the devout.

The church is home to a number of intrigues within its confines, including a painting of the last supper by Tintoretto, a labyrinth etched into one of the walls, and the intriguing Volta santo which is housed in its own Temple: the golden Tempietto del Volto Santo (below).

Of all its treasures the golden Tempietto which is locked tight to protect the Volto Santo – a 1000 year old wooden crucifix, is its most intriguing.

Once a year, as in the image below, the Volto Santo is dressed by goldsmiths with a crown, a collar, a medallion, a belt, shoes, a sceptre and the keys of the town, to celebrate the sombre Luminara di Sante Croce festival, which takes place annually on the 13th of September.

When viewing the cathedral from outside, you’ll note that many of the columns are different. Nobody knows why, but there’s a legend that states that the inhabitants of Lucca announced a contest for the best column – the winner, presumably, would then have been commissioned to make a full set. Naturally, artists throughout the town made their entry, only for Lucca to take all of them without paying the artists.