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  • Volto Santo di Lucca (Holy Face of Lucca)

    By Anthony Parente

    Volto Santo de Lucca
    © JoanbanjoCC BY-SA 3.0
    The Volto Santo is an eight-foot tall wooden sculpture of Christ crucified to the cross that is located in the Cattedrale di San Martino in Lucca, Tuscany. It is one of the most treasured relics in the Christian world. It is comparable to the Shroud of Turin, because it is also believed to show the true image of Christ. The crucifix arrived in Lucca in 782 and it is one of the oldest wooden carvings in Europe.

    One popular legend states this was sculpted by Nicodemus, a disciple of Jesus, who assisted St. Joseph of Arimathea placing Christ in the tomb after his crucifixion. During the sculpting of the crucifix, Nicodemus stopped when he got to the delineation of the face. He feared that he could not portray it faithfully. As he slept, he dreamt that the face was delicately sculpted. When he woke from his sleep it was miraculously completed. After his death the Holy Face was hidden in a cave where it remained for centuries. It was discovered by Bishop Gualfredo, who dreamt of its location while on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The Bishop sought divine intervention as he placed the relic in an unmanned boat out to sea. The boat arrived at a harbor in Luni (currently Tuscany). As the people of Luni attempted to board the boat winds would push it further out to sea. It was the Bishop of Lucca, who also had a dream that revealed how to board the vessel. The Bishop recovered the sculpture and place the wooden cross in a cart pulled by oxen. Like Bishop Gualfredo, he let divine guidance take the relic to its new home. It arrived at the town of Lucca and with great jubilation the people took the relic and placed it in the Basilica of San Frediano. When the townspeople returned the next day, the relic was missing only to be found on the current spot of the Cattedrale di San Martino where it remains today.

    Volto Santo Chapel in Lucca
    © Jean-Christophe BENOISTCC BY-2.5
    In 1484, sculptor Matthew Civitali was commissioned to construct a chapel within the Cathedrale made of Carrara marble to house this treasured relic. The chapel is gated, but on September 13th they are opened for one day to allow people to pass right in front of the crucifix. This day coincides with the Volto Santo Festival, which is one of the most significant religious festivals in Italy. The relic is adorned with a crown, collar, vest, and shoes all in gold.

    On the evening of September 13th all the lights are turned off in town as doors, archways and buildings are adorned with candles lighting the procession route for the Volto Santo. Starting at the Basilica of San Frediano a giant banner portraying the Volto Santo it carried as the procession makes its way through the town. The candlelight parade includes all factions from the town as well as bands and tourists from all over the world. The procession concludes at the Cattedrale di San Martino. The evening is capped with a beautiful firework display.

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