We have had a very meaningful Easter weekend here in Lucca. Italians really get into any holiday – and Easter is a 3-day weekend with Easter Monday being a national holiday. We knew we had found the perfect place to experience this wonderful time of year.
Our Italian was good enough that we figured out from the sign on the church door that there would be a processional through the city on Friday night to mark Good Friday. We weren’t sure what to expect but wanted to see how Italians mark this somber day.
It was so beautiful and emotional. About 500 people gathered outside the church. Volunteers handed out candles and programs. Men and women representing the different churches in the city (I think the equivalent of their “elders”) dressed in robes to lead the way, with someone holding the cross high overhead. As we moved through the city, we sang Italian hymns. You could see a long line of candlelight up and down the narrow passageways.
We stopped at various spots, while the leaders read the story of the Crucifixion – the Italian Stations of the Cross. Then we would move on, singing along the way. People in the restaurants stopped eating and came to the door to watch, some with tears in their eyes.
We ended at the basilica, where we filed in for the final part – where Jesus died and was buried. The choir sang “Worthy is the Lamb” (in Italian), and then we all silently filed out. I get choked up just writing about it.
And then Easter Sunday dawned bright. We went to services at the magnificent San Martino Cathedral, which dates from the 11th century. I’ve posted some pictures below (which I took when we toured earlier). The Cathedral is fronted with two dozen different columns – you can see from the picture. Apparently the city had a contest to see which artist could create the columns for the new church. Each entrant submitted a sample column. Then, instead of selecting one winner (and having to pay for the rest of the columns), the church just put them all up.
The service as filled to capacity with much pomp and circumstance. The most stunning part was when the choir sang, and one of the altar boys lit the “holy fire,” which (we think) was to symbolize Christ no longer being in the tomb. They had hoisted an iron frame above the congregation with what looked like sheep hair tied all over it. The altar boy, who had a long pole with a flame on the end. He motioned for everyone to stand back and touched the frame – which went up quickly in flames – which then all fell back on the floor and us. No one seemed concerned as they wiped embers off of their clothes. I admit to having a little trouble concentrating during that part. But the service was beautiful and moving.
What a wonderful experience this has been. Buona Pasqua!