Cathedral, Lucca

The original church, which became the seat of the Bishop in the eighth century, is believed to have been founded by St Fredianus in the sixth century. The church, dedicated to St Martin, was rebuilt by Bishop Anselmo da Baggio, later Pope Alexander II (1061-73), and was again completely rebuilt in the 13th century. As a result it is predominantly Romanesque, with some Gothic features.
Address: Piazza San Martino, I-55100 Lucca, Italy

Cathedral Highlights


The richly decorated Romanesque facade was the work of the Lombard architect Guidetto da Como (1204, according to an inscription in the first dwarf gallery). It consists of a lower story, with three arches opening into a portico, and three tiers of dwarf galleries; it was presumably intended to top the facade with a pediment, but this was never constructed. To allow for the campanile the right-hand part of the facade is two arches narrower than the left-hand side.
The lower part of the massive campanile, 69m/226ft high, is of light-colored travertine, the upper part of brick. The windows in the campanile are single-arched on the lowest level, rising to five arches in the highest. The portico was decorated in the mid 13th century with fine sculpture by Lombard sculptors (among them Guido da Como). In the main doorway are four scenes from the life of St Martin, to whom the church is dedicated; in the tympanum of the right-hand doorway is the "Beheading of St Regulus"; on the lintel of the left-hand doorway the "Annunciation", the "Nativity" and the "Adoration of the Kings"; and in the tympanum the "Entombment" - all work of the highest quality by Nicola Pisano dating from about 1260-70.


The interior of Lucca Cathedral consists of a nave flanked by aisles and a two-aisled transept, with a semicircular apse at the east end. Round-headed arches borne on piers support galleries with two tripartite windows. The interior received its present form in the 14th-15th centuries (restored in the 19th century). Just inside the entrance, on the right, is the famous group depicting St Martin and the beggar (early 13th century), one of the finest examples of Romanesque sculpture in Lucca, formerly on the outside of the facade. On the fifth pier on the right is the pulpit by Matteo Civitali (1494-98). In the sacristy are a "Pietà", believed to be by Bartolomeo di Giovanni, and pictures by Doménico Ghirlandaio or his school. In the right-hand transept are the Tomb of Pietro da Noceto, Secretary to Pope Nicholas V (1447-55), and, facing it, the Tomb of Doménico Bertini. Both are notable examples (by Matteo Civitali) of Florentine funerary sculpture of the 15th century. To the right of the apse is the large Altar of St Regulus, and in the adjoining Chapel of the Sacrament are two Angels; both of these works are by Civitali. The stained glass in the apse, by Pandolfo di Ugolino, dates from about 1485. To the left of the sanctuary is a statue of St John the Evangelist by Iácopo della Quercia; and in the adjoining Cappella del Santuario is a beautiful "Madonna" (1509) by Fra Bartolommeo.

Tomb of Ilaria del Carretto

In the left transept of Lucca Cathedral is the impressive tomb of Ilaria del Carretto (d. 1405), Paolo Guinigi's second wife, who died young. It is a master work by Iácopo della Quercia. The dead woman is depicted lying on a sarcophagus, with an expression of great repose; her dress is disposed in elaborate folds; and at her feet is a dog, the symbol of fidelity. The sarcophagus is decorated with reliefs of putti (cherubs), representing spirits of death.

Volto Santo

The greatest treasure of the cathedral in Lucca, from the religious artistic point of view, is the Volto Santo or Holy Face, an effigy of Christ on the Cross, housed in a tempietto (little temple) made for it by Matteo Civitali. Legend has it that it was carved by Nicodemus from the wood of a cedar of Lebanon and brought by mysterious ways to Lucca, where it was highly venerated. Every year on September 13th the Volto Santo is carried through the streets of the town in solemn procession. The date of the Crucifix, which is honored as miracle-working, is uncertain, but is probably 11th to 12th century. The present Volto Santo is undoubtedly based on a much earlier prototype.

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