Monday, May 28, 2018
Lucca's fascinating past is reenacted by various colorful, spectacular events
This entry is written by guest columnist and Lucca native Elena Benvenuti of Discover Lucca with Elena.
Lucca periodically relives its storied past with colorful celebrations of historical eras and events, most of them relative to the Middle Ages. These events make the city’s history come alive and provide great entertainment and amusement for citizens and tourists.
The most important celebration takes place September 13, the Luminara di Santa Croce. This famous festival is a devotional procession in which the Volto Santo (Holy Face), a wooden crucifix, is carried in a colourful yet solemn parade that starts from the Church of San Frediano and ends at the Cathedral of San Martino. The route follows the historical “miraculous path” of the Volto Santo, a relic precious to Lucca.
The celebration starts at 8 p.m., with praying people marching in medieval costumes along with parish priests and warriers with crossbows, bow and arrows and other traditional weapons. All participants carry a candle or lamp and create a parade of lights, while all the buildings along the procession route are illuminated or decorated with tiny glasses containing lit candles. Also included in the long parade are instrumental bands and choirs, the latter singing variations of a hymn called Lodi to the SS. Cross, Praise to the Most Holy Cross.
Lucca hosts other parades in costumes and lights besides Santa Croce. The Luminaria di San Paolino, named to honor the first bishop of Lucca, is held July 11. This Luminara consists of many events, including a parade lighted by torches and candles, historical costumes worn by members of the “Gruppo di San Paolino,” the firing of cannons, and religious ceremonies to honor the patron saint of Lucca.
The Association Contrade San Paolino (ACSP) with its crossbows, tambourines and actors was founded in Lucca in 1991. The members’ deep passion for the history of Lucca led them to recall and relive the origins and history of the independent city town during the medieval period. The balestrieri (crossbowmen) march in parades during the whole week leading up to the festival.
Lucca has a long tradition with the balestrieri. Written testimony about the crossbow appeared as early as 1169, when the Republic of Lucca asked for help from the friendly Republic of Genoa, and the latter sent a company of balestrieri to defend Lucca from incessant attacks from the Republic of Pisa.
A selected group of crossbowmen was then created, and the balestrieri became a highly honoured profession, entrusted with the protection of the city. The “capitano del popolo,” Castruccio Castracani, who led the town between 1316 and his death 1328, established prizes to encourage the use of the crossbow. Regular competitions were organized to train the balestrieri during periods of peace.
The next appointment with the Association Contrade di San Paolino is coming very soon: The weekend of June 2-3 the public can witness the dramatic work of six different reenactment associations in Piazzale Verdi. Medieval villages will display equipment such as armor, helmets, swords and crossbows. In addition, live performances will be conducted demonstrating the particular skills of fire manipulation, falconry, drum parades, flag throwing, stilt-walking, juggling, dancing and medieval combat. An important and thrilling crossbow competition will take place on Sunday. If you want to enjoy this incredible experience, you can also read more about it at the website for the Contrade di San Paolino: www.consanpaolino.org.