Monday, September 15, 2014

Santa Croce

San Michele lit up with candles

 "Evviva la Croce, la Croce evviva
Evviva la Croce, e chi la esaltò"
~ From chant Evviva la croce

San Michele during the day
Mike and I came to Lucca the first time in 2010 because friends of ours in Las Vegas recommended Lucca.  We arrived early in the morning of September 13 because that evening was the Festa della Santa Croce (Feast of the Holy Cross), and I had read a lot about it and wanted to see it. The only thing I knew about the festival was that they had an evening procession from one end of the walled historic center to the main cathedral, and that candles lit the procession route (luminaria).  Lucky us, it rained that first evening, so we got soaked watching as people poured into (and eventually out of) the cathedral (I'll explain all of this as I go on).

San Martino during the day
 The Lucca festival dates back to the 11th century, although it follows a custom of procession much older than that. Included in that procession are the priests and many parishioners of all of the churches in the archdiocese of Lucca, representatives of many of the local humanitarian and church organizations, and representatives from various diocese around the country. In addition,
 accompanying the other marchers are bands which play basically the same tune, "Evviva la croc," which the participants sing. Continuously. For four-to-five hours. 

San Martino lit with candles
(Side note: Because it was raining in 2010, we lasted only about two hours before we walked back to our hotel. We could still hear the cardinal singing "Evviva la croce...," and the chant has stuck in my head since then.  Ask me to sing it for you when I get home.  Rather, don't ask me to sing it for you because I really don't like having it stuck in my head for days on end. Click here to listen to a band playing it in the cathedral.)

  The feast is on September 13, and all during that day, workmen put candles on buildings that line the parade route.  From what I understand, there are 30,000+ candles in the city, and it takes the entire day to put them on the buildings and light them. 
Workers lighting candles
 There are, by the way, holders that remain on the buildings year-round. Plastic cups hold the candles, and a think foil cap cover the top.  The workers start lighting the candles around 1 or 2 in the afternoon (photos below).

Workers lighting candles
 Because the procession starts at 8 pm and lasts a good four-to-five hours, the candles last a good amount of time.  Interestingly, we've seen very few ruined plastic cups.  Most of them still contain the remnants of the candles, although

there are a few that are burned and shriveled.

The procession starts at the church of San Frediano, a medieval church at one end of the town.  It takes about 45 minutes for the procession leaders to get to the Cathedral of San Martin.  Leading the way are police on motorcycles, followed by men carrying a banner replicating "il Volto Santo."  The real Volto Santo, a carved sculpture reportedly done by Nicodemus, one of Christ's disciples.

(The sculpture disappeared at some point, but was found in the 8th century and taken to Lucca. Citizens of the area have always gone to Lucca to pray and honor the sculpture.)

The banner at the beginning of the procession
 Men carrying a large floral cross follow, and then participants from all over follow them.

The floral cross
 When we attended in 2010, most of the participants dressed in medieval costumes.  This year, we saw very few of them, but we figured most of the regular people gave up in 2010 because of the rain.  As I mentioned before, we went back to our hotel after two hours, but we heard the cardinal singing for more than two more hours.  At one point before we left, we noticed that the participants would process into the front doors of the cathedral and immediately exit out of the side door because there were too many people in the cathedral.

 This year, we were lucky enough to get to stand very near the cathedral and right next to the barricades, so we could see everyone.  We noted that when bands arrived, police headed them off to the side and away from the cathedral so that the place didn't overfill too quickly.

I had to change places with Mike at one point because the guy who elbowed his way in next to me kept pushing me.  I was ready to slug him but decided that it was not the right thing to do at a religious festival

 We lasted about90 minutes which, given my immense dislike of crowds, was pretty good.  We fought our way home around 9:30, and as we turned into the courtyard where our apartment is, we noticed that one of the other homeowners had lit a number of candles (below). 

Our neighbor
Now, if I can only get that chant out of my head....

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