Florence and Northern Tuscany with Genoa
by Edward Hutton
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

It is from Poppi one may go very easily in a summer day to Camaldoli, some eight miles or so to the north-west, where the valley comes up in a long arm into the mountains. On that lovely road you pass many an old ruin of the Guidi before you come at last to that monastery of the Camaldolese Order "so beloved of Dante," which was confiscated with the rest in 1866. The monks now hire their own house from the Government, which has let out their hospice for an hotel. About an hour above the monastery, among the pine trees, is the Sacro Eremo, the Holy Hermitage, where in some twenty separate cells the Hermits of Camaldoli live; for, as their arms go to show, the Order is divided into two parts, consisting of monks who live in community, and hermits who live alone.

S. Romuald, the founder of the Order, of the family of the Dukes of Ravenna called Honesti, was born in that city in 956. He seems to have grown up amid a certain splendour, and to have been caught by it, but by a love of nature no less; so that often when he was hunting, and found a beautiful or lonely place in the woods away from his companions, he would almost cry out, "How happy were the old hermits, who lived always in such places!" The romance of just that: it seems to have struck him from the first. Not long after, when he was but twenty years old, his father, deciding a dispute with a relation by fighting, fell, and Romuald, who had been compelled to witness this dreadful scene, was so overwhelmed by the result that he retired for a time to the Benedictine Monastery at Classis, not far from Ravenna. After some difficulties had been disposed of, for he was his father's heir, he spent seven years in that monastery; but his sincerity does not appear to have pleased certain of the fathers, so that we find him at last obliged to retire to Venice, where, in fulfilment of his earliest wishes, he placed himself under the guidance of Marinus, a hermit. After many years, in which he seems to have gone to Spain, he returned at last, and took up his hermit life in a marsh near Classis, where the monks of his old monastery sought him, and with the help of Otho III made him their Abbot. This office, however, he did not long retain, for he found it useless to try to reform them. He seems to have wandered about, famous all over Italy, founding many houses, but the most famous of all is this house of Camaldoli, which he founded in 1009. The land was given him by a certain Conte Maldolo, it is said, an Aretine, by whose name the place was ever after known, Campus Maldoli; while another gift, Campus Arrabile, the gift of the same man, is that place where the Hermitage stands. There, in Camaldoli, Romuald built a monastery, "and by several observances he added to St. Benedict's rule, gave birth to a new Order, in which he united the cenobite and eremetical life." It is said that it was after a vision, in which he saw his monks mounting up into heaven dressed in white, that he changed their habit from black to white—the habit they still wear.

Whether it be that the hills and valley are indeed more lovely here than anywhere else in Casentino, and that the monks and the hermits lure some indefinable sweet charm to the place, I know not; yet I know that I, who came for a day, stayed a month, returning here again and again from less lovely, less quiet places. Camaldoli is one of the loveliest places in Tuscany in which to spend a summer. Here are mountains, woods, streams, valleys, a monastery, and a hermitage; to desire more might seem churlish, to be content with less when these may be had in quiet, stupid.


Some eight miles away down the valley, enclosed above a coil of Arno, stands Bibbiena, just a little Tuscan hill city with a windy towered Piazza in which a great fountain plays, and all about the tall cypresses tower in the sun among the vineyards and the corn. Here Cardinal Bibbiena, the greatest ornament of the court of Urbino, was born, of no famous family, but of the Divizi. It is not, however, any memory of so famous and splendid a person that haunts you in these stony streets, but the remembrance rather of a greater if humbler humanist, St. Francis of Assisi. You may see work of the della Robbia in the Franciscan church of S. Lorenzo in the little city, but it is La Verna which to-day overshadows Bibbiena, La Verna where St. Francis nearly seven hundred years ago received the Stigmata from Our Lord, and whence he was carried down to Assisi to die. The way thither is difficult but beautiful: you climb quite into the mountains, and there in a lonely and stony place rises the strange rock, set with cypress and with fir, backed by marvellous great hills.

"Mons in quo beneplacitum est Deo habitare in eo."

It was on the morning of the 14th September 1224, in the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, that Francesco Bernadone received the Stigmata of Christ's passion while keeping the Lent of St. Michael Archangel on this strange and beautiful mountain. "Ye must needs know," says the author of the Fioretti, "that St. Francis, being forty and three years of age in the year 1224, being inspired of God, set out from the valley of Spoleto for to go into Romagna with brother Leo his companion: and as they went they passed by the foot of the castle of Montefeltro; in the which castle there was at that time a great company of gentlefolk.... Among them a wealthy gentleman of Tuscany, by name Orlando da Chiusi of Casentino, who by reason of the marvellous things which he had heard of St. Francis, bore him great devotion and felt an exceeding strong desire to see him and to hear him preach. Coming to the castle St. Francis entered in and came to the courtyard, where all that great company of gentlefolk was gathered together, and in fervour of spirit stood up upon a parapet and began to preach.... And Orlando, touched in the heart by God through the marvellous preaching of St. Francis ... drew him aside and said, 'O Father, I would converse with thee touching the salvation of my soul.' Replied St. Francis: 'It pleaseth me right well; but go this morning and do honour to thy friends who have called thee to the feast, and dine with them, and after we will speak together as much as thou wilt.' So Orlando got him to the dinner; and after he returned to St. Francis and ... set him forth fully the state of his soul. And at the end this Orlando said to St. Francis, 'I have in Tuscany a mountain most proper for devotion, the which is called the Mount La Verna, and is very lonely and right well fitted for whoso may wish to do penance in a place remote from man, or whoso may desire to live a solitary life; if it should please thee, right willingly would I give it to thee and thy companions for the salvation of my soul.' St. Francis hearing this liberal offer of the thing that he so much desired, rejoiced with exceeding great joy; and praising and giving thanks first to God and then to Orlando, he spake thus: 'Orlando, when you have returned to your house, I will send you certain of my companions, and you shall show them that mountain; and if it shall seem to them well fitted for prayer and penitence, I accept your loving offer even now.' So Orlando returned to Chiusi, the which was but a mile distant from La Verna.

"Whenas St. Francis had returned to St. Mary of the Angels, he sent one of his companions to the said Orlando ... who, desiring to show them the Mount of La Verna, sent with them full fifty men-at-arms to defend them from the wild beasts of the forest; and thus accompanied, these brothers climbed up the mountain and searched diligently, and at last they came to a part of the mountain that was well fitted for devotion and contemplation, for in that part there was some level ground, and this place they chose out for them and for St. Francis to dwell therein; and with the help of the men-at-arms that bore them company, they made a little cell of branches of trees; and so they accepted, in the name of God, and took possession of, the Mount of La Verna, and of the dwelling-place of the brothers on the mountain, and departed and returned to St. Francis. And when they were come unto him, they told him how, and in what manner, they had taken a place on the mountain ... and, hearing these tidings, St. Francis was right glad, and praising and giving thanks to God, he spake to these brothers with joyful countenance, and said, 'My sons, our forty days' fast of St. Michael the Archangel draweth near: I firmly believe that it is the will of God that we keep this fast on the Mount of Alvernia, which, by divine decree, hath been made ready for us to the end, that to the honour and glory of God, and of His mother, the glorious Virgin Mary, and of the holy Angels, we may, through penance, merit at the hands of Christ the consolation of consecrating this blessed mountain.' Thus saying, St. Francis took with him Brother Masseo da Marignano of Assisi ... and Brother Angelo Tancredi da Rieti, the which was a man of very gentle birth, and in the world had been a knight; and Brother Leo, a man of exceeding great simplicity and purity, for the which cause St. Francis loved him much. So they set out. 'And on the first night they came to a house of the brothers, and lodged there. On the second night, by reason of the bad weather, and because they were tired, not being able to reach any house of the brothers, or any walled town or village, when the night overtook them and bad weather, they took refuge in a deserted and dismantled church, and there laid them down to rest.' But St. Francis spent the night in prayer. 'And in the morning his companions, being aware that, through the fatigues of the night which he had passed without sleep, St. Francis was much weakened in body and could but ill go on his way afoot, went to a poor peasant of these parts, and begged him, for the love of God, to lend his ass for Brother Francis, their Father, that could not go afoot. Hearing them make mention of Brother Francis, he asked them: 'Are ye of the brethren of the brother of Assisi, of whom so much good is spoken?' The brothers answered 'Yes,' and that in very truth it was for him that they asked for the sumpter beast. Then the good man, with great diligence and devotion, made ready the ass and brought it to St. Francis, and with great reverence let him mount thereon, and they went on their way, and he with them behind his ass. And when they had gone on a little way, the peasant said to St. Francis, 'Tell me, art thou Brother Francis of Assisi?' Replied St. Francis, 'Yes.' 'Try, then,' said the peasant, 'to be as good as thou art by all folk held to be, seeing that many have great faith in thee; and therefore I admonish thee, that in thee there be naught save what men hope to find therein.' Hearing these words, St. Francis thought no scorn to be admonished by a peasant, and said not within himself, 'What beast is this doth admonish me?' as many would say nowadays that wear the habit, but straightway threw himself from off the ass upon the ground, and kneeled down before him and kissed his feet, and then humbly thanked him for that he had deigned thus lovingly to admonish him. Then the peasant, together with the companions of St. Francis, with great devotion lifted him from the ground and set him on the ass again, and they went on their way.... As they drew near to the foot of the rock of Alvernia itself, it pleased St. Francis to rest a little under the oak that was by the way, and is there to this day; and as he stood under it, St. Francis began to take note of the situation of the place and the country around. And as he was thus gazing, lo! there came a great multitude of birds from divers parts, the which, with singing and flapping of their wings, all showed joy and gladness exceeding great, and came about St. Francis in such fashion, some settled on his head, some on his shoulders, and some on his arms, some in his lap and some round his feet. When his companions and the peasant marvelled, beholding this, St. Francis, all joyful in spirit, spake thus unto them: 'I believe, brethren most dear, that it is pleasing unto Our Lord Jesus Christ that we should dwell in this lonely mountain, seeing that our little sisters and brothers, the birds, show such joy at our coming.' So they went on their way and came to the place the companions had first chosen."

It is not in any other words than those of the writer of the Fioretti that we should care to read of that journey.

"Arrived there not long after, Orlando and his company came to visit Francis, bringing with them bread and wine and other victuals; and St. Francis met him gladly and gave him thanks for the holy mountain. Then Orlando built a little cell there, and that done, 'as it was drawing near to evening and it was time for them to depart, St. Francis preached unto them a little before they took leave of him.' Ah, what would we not give just for a moment to hear his voice in that place to-day? There, in this very spot, angels visited him, which said, when he, thinking upon his death, wondered what would become of 'Thy poor little family' after his death, 'I tell thee, in the name of God, that the profession of the Order will never fail until the Day of Judgment, and there will be no sinner so great as not to find mercy with God if, with his whole heart, he love thine Order.'

"Thereafter, as the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady drew near, St. Francis sought how he might find a place more solitary and secret, wherein he might the more solitary keep the forty days' fast of St. Michael the Archangel, which beginneth with the said Feast of the Assumption.... And as they searched, they found, on the side of the mountain that looks towards the south, a lonely place, and very proper for his purpose; but they could not win there because in front there was a horrid and fearful cleft in a huge rock; wherefore with great pains they laid a piece of wood over it as a bridge, and got across to the other side. Then St. Francis sent for the other brothers and told them how he was minded to keep the forty days' fast of St. Michael in that lonely place; and therefore he besought them to make him a little cell there, so that no cry of his could be heard of them. And when the cell was made, St. Francis said to them: 'Go ye to your own place and leave me here alone, for, with the help of God, I am minded to keep the fast here without disturbance or distraction, and therefore let none of you come unto me, nor suffer any lay folk to come to me. But Brother Leo, thou alone shalt come to me once a day with a little bread and water, and at night once again at the hour of Matins; and then shalt thou come to me in silence, and when thou art at the bridgehead thou shalt say: "Domine, labia mea operies," and if I answer thee, cross over and come to the cell, and we will say Matins together; and if I answer thee not, then depart straightway.' And so it was. But there came a morning when St. Francis made him no answer, and, contrary to St. Francis's desire, but with the very best of intentions, dear little brother Leo crossed the bridge over the chasm, which you may see to this day, and entered into St. Francis's cell. There he found him in ecstasy, saying, 'Who art Thou, O most sweet, my God? What am I, most vile worm, and Thine unprofitable servant?' Again and again brother Leo heard him repeat these words, and wondering thereat, he lifted his eyes to the sky, and saw there among the stars, for it was dark, a torch of flame very beautiful and bright, which, coming down from the sky, rested on St. Francis's head. So, thinking himself unworthy to behold so sweet a vision, he softly turned away for to go to his cell again. And as he was going softly, deeming himself unseen, St. Francis was aware of him by the rustling of the leaves under his feet. Surely, even to the most doubtful, that sound of the rustling leaves must bring conviction. Then St. Francis explains to brother Leo all that this might mean.

"And as he thus continued a long time in prayer, he came to know that God would hear him, and that so far as was possible for the mere creature, so far would it be granted him to feel the things aforesaid.... And as he was thus set on fire in his contemplation on that same morn, he saw descend from heaven a Seraph with six wings resplendent and aflame, and as with swift flight the Seraph drew nigh unto St. Francis so that he could discern him, he clearly saw that he bore in him the image of a man crucified; and his wings were in such guise displayed that two wings were spread above his head, and two were spread out to fly, and other two covered all his body. Seeing this, St. Francis was sore adread, and was filled at once with joy and grief and marvel. He felt glad at the gracious look of Christ, who appeared to him so lovingly, and gazed on him so graciously; but, on the other hand, seeing Him crucified upon the cross, he felt immeasurable grief for pity's sake.... Then the whole mount of Alvernia appeared as though it burned with bright shining flames that lit up all the mountains and valleys round as though it had been the sun upon the earth; whereby the shepherds that were keeping watch in these parts, seeing the mountains aflame, and so great a light around, had exceeding great fear, according as they afterwards told unto the brothers, declaring that this flame rested upon the mount of Alvernia for the space of an hour and more. In like manner at the bright shining of this light, which through the windows lit up the hostels of the country round, certain muleteers that were going into Romagna arose, believing that the day had dawned, and saddled and laded their beasts; and going on their way, they saw the said light die out and the material sun arise. In the seraphic vision, Christ, the which appeared to him, spake to St. Francis certain high and secret things, the which St. Francis in his lifetime desired not to reveal to any man; but after his life was done he did reveal them, as it set forth below; and the words were these: 'Knowest thou,' said Christ, 'what it is that I have done unto thee? I have given thee the Stigmata that are the signs of My Passion, to the end that thou mayest be My standard-bearer. And even as in the day of My death I descended into hell and brought out thence all souls that I found there by reason of these My Stigmata: even so do I grant to thee that every year on the day of thy death thou shalt go to Purgatory, and in virtue of thy Stigmata shalt bring out thence all the souls of thy three Orders,—to wit, Minors, Sisters, Continents,—and likewise others that shall have had a great devotion for thee, and shalt lead them unto the glory of Paradise, to the end that thou mayest be confirmed to Me in death as thou art in life.' Then this marvellous image vanished away, and left in the heart of St. Francis a burning ardour and flame of love divine, and in his flesh a marvellous image and copy of the Passion of Christ. For straightway in the hands and feet of St. Francis began to appear the marks of the nails in such wise as he had seen them in the body of Jesus Christ the crucified, the which had shown Himself to him in the likeness of a Seraph; and thus his hands and feet appeared to be pierced through the middle with nails, and the heads of them were in the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet outside the flesh, and their points came out in the back of his hands and of his feet, so that they seemed bent back and rivetted in such a fashion that under the bend and rivetting which all stood out above the flesh might easily be put a finger of the hand as a ring; and the heads of the nails were round and black. Likewise in the right side appeared the image of a wound made by a lance, unhealed, and red and bleeding, the which afterwards oftentimes dropped blood from the sacred breast of St. Francis, and stained with blood his tunic and his hose. Wherefore his companions, before they knew it of his own lips, perceiving nevertheless that he uncovered not his hands and feet, and that he could not put the soles of his feet to the ground ... knew of a surety that in his hands and feet, and likewise in his side, he bore the express image and similitude of Our Lord Jesus Christ crucified." On the day after the feast of St. Michael, St. Francis left La Verna never to return.

* * * * *

It was with a certain hesitation that I first came to La Verna, as though something divine that was hidden in the life of the Apostle of Humanity might be lost for me in the mere realism of his sacred places. But it was not so. In Italy, it might seem even to-day, St. Francis is not a stranger, and, in fact, I had got no farther than the Cappella degli Uccelli before I seemed to understand everything, and in a place so lonely as this to have found again, yes, that Jesus whom I had lost in the city.

On a high precipitous rock on the top of the mountain you come to the convent itself, through a great court, il Quadrante, under a low gateway. The buildings are of the end of the fifteenth century, simple, and with a certain country beauty about them, strong and engaging. In the dim corridors the friars pass you on their way to church at all hours of the day, smiling faintly at you, whom they, in their simple way, receive without question as a friend. It is for St. Francis you have come: it is enough. You pass into the Cappella della Maddalena, where the angel appeared to S. Francesco promising such great things, and it is with a certain confidence you remind yourself, yes, it is true, the Order still lives, here men still speak S. Francesco's name and pray to God. And there, as it is said, Jesus Himself spoke with him, and he wrote the blessing for Frate Leone. Then you enter the Chiesina, the first little church of the Mountain that St. Francis may have built with his own hands, and that S. Bonaventura certainly enlarged; and thus into the great Church of S. Maria Assunta, built in 1348 by the Conte di Pietramala, with its beautiful della Robbias. Coming out again, you pass along the covered way into the Cappella della Stigmata, built in 1263 by the Conte Simone da Battifolle, where behind the high altar is the great Crucifixion by one of the della Robbia. Next to this chapel is the Cappella della Croce, where of old the cell stood in which St. Francis kept the Lent of St. Michael. Close by are the Oratories of S. Antonio di Padua and S. Bonaventura, where they prayed and worked. Below the Chapel of the Stigmata is the Sasso Spicco, whence the devil hurled one of the brethren. For during that Lent, "Francis leaving his cell one day in fervour of spirit, and going aside a little to pray in a hollow of the rock, from which down to the ground is an exceeding deep descent and a horrible and fearful precipice, suddenly the devil came in terrible shape, with a tempest and exceeding loud roar, and struck at him for to push him down thence. St. Francis, not having where to flee, and not being able to endure the grim aspect of the demon, he turned him quickly with hands and face and all his body pressed to the rock, commending himself to God and groping with his hands, if perchance he might find aught to cling to. But as it pleased God, who suffereth not His servants to be tempted above that they are able to bear, suddenly by a miracle the rock to which he clung hollowed itself out in fashion as the shape of his body.... But that which the demon could not do then unto St. Francis ... he did a good while after the death of St. Francis unto one of his dear and pious brothers, who was setting in order some pieces of wood in the self-same place, to the end that it might be possible to cross there without peril, out of devotion to St. Francis and the miracle that was wrought there. On a day the demon pushed him, while he had on his head a great log that he wished to set there, and made him fall down thence with the log upon his head. But God, that had preserved and delivered St. Francis from falling, through his merits delivered and preserved his pious brother from the peril of his fall; for the brother, as he fell, with exceeding great devotion commanded himself in a loud voice to St. Francis, and straightway he appeared unto him, and, catching him, set him down upon the rocks without suffering him to feel a shock or any hurt." Can it have been this "pious brother" who wrote the Fioretti? Everywhere you go in La Verna you feel that S. Francesco has been before you; and where there is no tradition to help you, surely you will make one for yourself. Can he who loved everything that had life have failed to love, too, that world he saw from La Penna—

"Nel crudo sasso, intra Tevere ed Amo"

—Casentino and its woods and streams, Val d'Arno, Val di Tevere, the hills of Perugia, the valleys of Umbria, the lean, wolfish country of the Marche, the rugged mountains of Romagna. There, on the summit of La Verna, you look down on the broken fortresses of countless wars, the passes through which army after army, company upon company, has marched to victory or fled in defeat; every hill-top seems to bear some ruined Rocca, every valley to be a forgotten battlefield, every stream has run red with blood. All is forgotten, all is over, all is done with. The victories led to nothing; the defeats are out of mind. In the midst of the battle the peasant went on ploughing his field; somewhere not far away the girls gathered the grapes. All this violence was of no account; it achieved nothing, and every victory was but the tombstone of an idea. Here, on La Verna, is the only fortress that is yet living in all Tuscany of that time so long ago. It is a fortress of love. The man who built it had flung away his dagger, and already his sword rusted in its scabbard in that little house in Assisi; he conquered the world by love. His was the irresistible and lovely force, the immortal, indestructible confidence of the Idea, the Idea which cannot die. If he prayed in Latin, he wrote the first verses of Italian poetry. Out of his tomb grew the rose of the Renaissance, and filled the world with its sweetness. He was the son of a burgess in Assisi, and is now the greatest saint in our heaven. With the sun he loved his name has shone round the world, and there is no land so far off that it has not heard it. And we, who loot upon the ruined castles of the Conti Guidi, are here because of him, and speak with his brothers as we gaze.


Slowly, as the summer waned, I made my way up through the Casentino, once more past the strongholds and the little towns. Now and then on my way I met the herds, already setting out for the winter pastures of Maremma. The grapes were plucking or gathered in, and everywhere there were songs.

"Come volete faccia che non pianga, Sapendo che da voi devo partire? E tu, bello, in Maremma, ed io 'n montagna! Chesta partenza mi fara morire."

So I came once more over Falterona, down to Castagno, that mountain village where Andrea del Castagno, the follower of Masaccio, was born, to S. Godenzo, between two streams, where Dante knew the castle of the Guidi, and where Conte Tegrimo of Porciano received Henry VII. Here, at last, I was in the very footsteps of Dante; for in the church there, in the choir set high above the old crypt, he signed the deed of alliance between the Guidi and the Ubaldini on 8th June 1302, "Actum in choro Sancti Gaudentii de pede Alpium."

Nothing remains of the place as it was in those days, I suppose, save the church, and that has been for the most part rebuilt; but the choir stands, so that we may say here, on 8th June 1302, Dante took quill and signed and spoke with his fellow-exiles.

Thence I followed the way to Dicomano by Sieve, at the foot of the Consuma, and then up stream to Borgo S. Lorenzo, the capital of the Mugello, and so by the winding road above the valley under the hills to Fiesole, to Florence, wrapped in rain, through which an evening sun was breaking.


[132] Now in S. Trinita in Firenze.

[133] Mr. Montgomery Carmichael (On the Old Road, etc., p. 293), quoting from Don Diego de' Franchi (Historia del Patriarcha S. Giovangualberto, p. 77: Firenze, 1640), says that S. Romuald and S. Giovanni Gualberto vowed eternal friendship between their Orders, "and for a long time, if a Camaldolese was visiting Vallombrosa, he would take off his own and put on a Vallombrosan habit as a symbol that the monks of the two Orders were brothers."

[134] Guida Illustrata del Casentino da C. Beni: Firenze, 1889. This perhaps the best guide-book in the Tuscan language, is certainly the best for the Casentino. Those who cannot read it must fall back on the charming and delightful book by Miss Noyes, The Casentino and its Story: Dent, 1905. It is too good a book to be left useless in its heavy bulky form. Perhaps Miss Noyes will give us a pocket edition.


Prato is like a flower that has fallen by the wayside that has faded in the dust of the way. She is a little rosy city, scarcely more than a castello, full of ruined churches; and in the churches are ruined frescoes, ruined statues, broken pillars, spoiled altars. You pass from one church to another—from S. Francesco, with its facade of green and white, its pleasant cloister and old frescoes, to La Madonna delle Carceri, to S. Niccolo da Tolentino, to S. Domenico—and you ask yourself, as you pass from one to another, what you have come to see: only this flower fallen by the wayside.

But in truth Prato is the child of Florence, a rosy child among the flowers—in the country, too, as children should be. Her churches are small. What could be more like a child's dream of a church than La Madonna delle Carceri? And the Palazzo Pretorio—it is a toy palace wonderfully carved and contrived, a toy that has been thrown aside. In the Palazzo Comunale the little daughter of Florence has gathered all her broken treasures: here a discarded Madonna, there a Bambino long since forgotten; flowers, too, flowers of the wayside, faded now, such as a little country girl will gather and toss into your vettura at any village corner in Tuscany; a terra-cotta of Luca della Robbia, and that would be a lily; a Madonna by Nero di Bicci, and that might have been a rose; a few panels by Lippo Lippi, and they were from the convent garden. In Via S. Margherita you come still upon a nosegay of such country blossoms, growing still by the wayside—Madonna with St. Anthony, S. Margherita, S. Costanza, and S. Stefano about her, painted by Filippino Lippo, a very lovely shrine, such as you cannot find in Florence, but which Prato seems glad to possess, on the way to the country itself.

And since Prato is a child, there are about her many children; mischievous, shy, joyful little people, who lurk round the coppersmiths, or play in the old churches, or hide about the corridors of Palazzo Comunale. And so it is not surprising that the greatest treasures of Prato are either the work of children—the frescoes, for instance, of Lippo Lippi and Lucrezia Buti in the Duomo—or the presentment of them, yes, in their happiest moments; some dancing, while others play on pipes, or with cymbals full of surprising sweetness, in the open-air pulpit of Donatello; a pulpit from which five times every year a delightful and wonderful thing is shown, not without its significance, too, in this child-city of children—Madonna's Girdle, the Girdle of the Mother of them all, shown in the open air, so that even the tiniest may see.

The Duomo itself, simple and small, so that you may not lose your way there, however little you may be, was built in 1317, though a church has stood there apparently since about 750, while the facade, all in ivory and green, is a work of the fifteenth century. Donatello's pulpit, for which a contract was made in 1425 which named Michelozzo with him as one of those industriosi maestri intent on the work, is built into the south-west corner of the church overlooking the Piazza. Almost a complete circle in form, it is separated, unfortunately we may think, into seven panels divided by twin pilasters, where on a mosaic ground groups, crowds almost, of children dance and play and sing. It is the very spirit of childhood you see there, a naive impetuosity that occasionally almost stumbles or forgets which way to turn; and if these panels have not the subtler rhythm of the Cantoria at Florence, they are more frankly just children's work, so that any day you may see some little maid of Prato gazing at those laughing babies, babies who dance really not without a certain awkwardness and simplicity, as though they were her own brothers, as indeed they are. Under the pulpit, Michelozzo has forged in bronze a relief of one face of a capital, where other children gaze with all the serious innocence of childhood at the pleasant world of the Piazza.

Passing under the terra-cotta of Madonna with St. Stephen and St. Laurence, made by Andrea della Robbia in 1489, you enter the church itself, a little dim and mysterious, and full of wonderful or precious things, those pillars, for instance, of green serpentine or the Sacra Cintola, the very Girdle of Madonna herself, in its own chapel there on the left behind the beautiful bronze screen of Bruno di Ser Lapo. There, too, you will always find a group of children, and surely it was for them that Agnolo Gaddi painted those frescoes of the life of Madonna and the gift of her Girdle to St. Thomas. For it seems that doubting Thomas was doubting to the last; he alone of all the saints was the least a child. How they wonder at him now, for first he could not believe that Jesus was risen from the dead, when the flowers rise, when the spring like Mary wanders to-day in tears in the garden. Was she not, indeed, the spring, who at break of day stood trembling on the verge of the garden, looking for the sun, the sun that had been dead all winter long? "They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him." After all, is it not the cry of our very hearts often enough at Easter, when the summer for which we have waited too long seems never to be coming at all? It came at last, and St. Thomas, like to us maybe, but unlike the children, would not believe it till he had touched the very dayspring with his hands, and felt the old sweetness of the sunshine. And so, when the sun was set and the world desolate, Madonna too came to die, and was received into heaven amid a great company of angels, and they were the flowers, and there she is eternally. Now, when all this came to pass, St. Thomas was not by, and when he came and saw Winter in the world he would not believe that Madonna was dead, nor would he be persuaded that she was crowned Queen of Angels in heaven. And Mary, in pity of his sorrow, sent him by the hands of children "the girdle with which her body was girt,"—just a strip of the blue sky sprinkled with stars,—"and therefore he understood that she was assumpt into heaven." And if you ask how comes this precious thing in Prato, I ask where else, then, could it be but in this little city among the children, where the promise of Spring abides continually, and the Sun is ever in their hearts. Ah, Rose of the world, dear Lily of the fields, you will return; like Spring you will come from that heaven where you are, and in every valley the flowers will run before you and the poppies will stray among the corn, and the proud gladiolus will bow its violet head; then on the hillside I shall hear again the silver laughter of the olives, and in the wide valleys I shall hear all the rivers running to the sea, and the sweet wind will wander in the villages, and in the walled cities I shall find the flowers, and I too, with the children, shall wait on the hills at dawn to see you pass by with the Sun in your arms because it is spring—Stella Matutina, Causa nostrae laetitiae.

It was a certain lad of Prato, Michele by name, who, wandering in the wake of the great army in Palestine in 1096 at evening, by one of the wells of the desert, kissed the little daughter of a great priest, who gave him the Girdle of Madonna for love. Returning to Prato with this precious thing, and having nowhere to hide it, he put it, as a child might do, under his bed, and every night the angels for fear mounted guard about it. He died, and it came into the hands of a certain Uberto, a priest of the city; then, one tried to steal it, but he was put to death, and after, the Girdle was placed in the Duomo in a casket of ivory in a chapel of marble between the pillars of serpentine and lamps of gold. And Andrea Pisano carved a statue of Madonna, and they dressed her in silk and placed her on an altar, in which lay hidden the promise of spring. Then Ridolfo Ghirlandajo painted a fresco over the west door, of Madonna with her Girdle, and indeed they did all they knew in honour of their treasure: so that Mino da Fiesole and Rossellino made a pulpit and set it there in the nave, and there, too, you may see Madonna giving her Girdle to St. Thomas, and St. Stephen, the boy martyr, stoned to death, and other remembrances. In the south transept Benedetto da Maiano carved a Madonna and Child, while his brothers carved a Pieta; but it is not such work as this which calls you to the Duomo to-day, but certainly the Girdle itself, which, however, you can only see on certain occasions.[135] And then there is the work of those two children, Fra Lippo Lippi and the little girl who ran away from her convent for love of him, Lucrezia Buti; for though it was Lippo Lippi who painted, it was Lucrezia who served him for model, and since with him painting, for the first time perhaps, came to need life to inspire it, Lucrezia has her part in his work which it would be ungenerous to ignore.

Filippo Lippi was born in 1406 in a by-street of Florence called Ardiglione, behind the convent of the Carmelites, where he painted his first frescoes. His mother, poor soul, died in giving him life, and his father died too before he was three years old. For some time he lived in the care of a certain Mona Lapaccia, his aunt, who hardly brought him up till he was eight years old, when, as Vasari tells us, no longer able to support the burden of his maintenance, she took him to the Carmelites, who promised to make a friar of him. Florence was at the moment of its all too brief spring, in which painting and sculpture were to grow almost like flowers at every street corner, with a delicate beauty that is characteristic of wild flowers, which yet are hardy enough in reality. Reality, it is just that which is so touching in the work of this naive, observant painter, whose work has much of the beauty of a folk-song, one of those rispetti which on every Tuscan hill you may hear any summer day above the song of the cicale. He went about, like the child he was his whole life long, looking at things out of curiosity, and remembering them for love. His adventures, those marvellous adventures of his childhood so carefully related by Vasari,—his capture by pirates on the beach of Ancona, his sojourn in Barbary, his escape hardly won by the astonishment of his art, are tales which, whether true or not, have a real value for us because they are indicative of his life, his view of the world: his life was in itself so daring, so delightful an adventure, that nothing that could have happened to him can seem marvellous beside it. For he has for the first time in Italy seen the things we have seen, and loved them: the children at the street corner, the flowers by the wayside, the girls grouped in a doorway looking sideways up the street, a mother nursing her little struggling son. In 1421 he had taken the habit, and then Masaccio had come to the convent to paint in the Brancacci Chapel, and Fra Filippo watched him, helping him perhaps, certainly fired by his work, till he who had played in the streets of Florence decided that he must be a painter. It is characteristic of his whole method that from the very beginning the cloister was too strait for him; he had the passion for seeing things, people, the life of the city, of strange cities too, for we hear of him vaguely in Naples, but soon in Florence again, where he painted in S. Ambrogio for the nuns the Coronation of the Virgin, now in the Accademia. It was this picture which Cosimo came upon, and, finding the painter, took him into his house. And truly, it was something very different from the holy work of Angelico, a painter Cosimo loved so well, that he found in that picture of the Coronation. That Virgin, was she Queen of Angels or some Florentine girl?—and then those angels, are they not the very children of the City of Flowers? But Lippo was not content; he who had found the convent too narrow for him in his insatiable desire for life, was not likely to be content with any burgher's palace. Cosimo ordered pictures, Lippo laughed in the streets, so they locked him in, and he knotted the sheets of the bed together and let himself out of the window, and for days he lived in the streets. So Cosimo let him alone, "labouring to keep him at his work by kindness," understanding, perhaps that it was a child with whom he had to deal, a child full of the wayward impulses of children, the naive genius of youth, the happiness of all that;—the passions, too, a passion, in Filippo's case, for kisses. He was never far from a girl's arms; and then how he has painted them, shy, roguish, wanton daughters of Florence, with their laughing, obstinate, kicking babies, half laughing, half smiling, altogether serious too, while Lippo paints them with a kiss for payment.

He spent some months in Prato with his friend Fra Diamante, who had been his companion in novitiate. The nuns of S. Margherita commissioned him to paint a picture for their high altar, and it was while at work there that he caught sight of Lucrezia Buti. "Fra Filippo," says Vasari, "having had a glance at the girl, who was very beautiful and graceful, so persuaded the nuns that he prevailed upon them to permit him to make a likeness of her for the figure of their Virgin." The picture, now in Paris, was finished, not before Filippo had fallen in love with Lucrezia and she with him, so that he led her away from the nuns; and on a certain day, when she had gone forth to do honour to the Cintola, he bore her from their keeping. "Take us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards; for our vineyards have tender grapes."

Vasari tells us that Lucrezia never returned, but remained with Filippo, bearing him a son,—that Filippino "who eventually became a most excellent and very famous painter like his father."

And it is said that not Lucrezia alone was involved in that adventure, for she had a sister not less lovely than herself, called Spinetta; she also fled away, and this again brought disgrace on the nuns, so that the Pope himself was compelled to interfere, for they were all living in Prato, not in disgrace but happily, children in a city of children. Cosimo, however, befriended them, and would laugh till the tears came in telling the tale, till Pius II, not altogether himself guiltless of the love of women, at his request unfrocked Filippo and authorised his union with Lucrezia. However this may be, and however strange it may seem, this wolf, who had stolen the lamb from the fold of Holy Church, was engaged by the Duomo authorities in this very city of the theft to paint in fresco there in the choir the story of St. John Baptist and of St. Stephen. It is a masterpiece. As we look to-day on the faded beauty of his work, it is with surprise we ask ourselves why he has signed the fresco of the death of St. Stephen, for instance, Frater Filippus; surely he was frater no longer, but Sponsus. He worked for four years at those frescoes, Fra Diamante coming from Florence to help him. He was a child, and the children of Prato understood him—the Medici too; for when the work in Prato was finished, Piero de' Medici roused himself to find him work, again in a church, the Duomo of Spoleto, where he has painted very sweetly the Annunciation, the Adoration of the Shepherds, the Coronation of the Virgin. Could these things have happened in any other city save Prato, or to any other than a child in the days not so long before Savonarola was burned? No; Fra Lippo played among the children of Italy, and has told us of them with simplicity and sweetness,—little stumbling fellows of the house doors, the laughing children about the fountains, the slim, pale girls who walk arm-in-arm, smiling faintly, in every Tuscan city at sunset, the flowers by the wayside, the shepherds of the hills. And he has made Jesus in the image of his little son; and Madonna is but Lucrezia Buti, whom he kissed into the world. You may see them to-day if you will go to Prato.


[135] The occasions are Christmas Day, Easter Day, May 1, August 15, and September 8.


If St. Francis of Assisi dreamed his whole life long of the resurrection of love among men, and in the valleys of Umbria went about like a second Jesus doing good, with an immense love in his heart singing his Laudes Creaturarum by the wayside; Dante Alighieri, the greatest poet of his country, might almost seem to have been overwhelmed with hatred, a hatred which is perhaps but the terrible reverse of an intolerable love, but which is an impeachment, nevertheless, not only of his own time, of the cities of his country, but of himself too, for while he thus sums up the Middle Age and judges it, he is himself its most marvellous child, losing himself at last in one of its ideals. St. Francis of Assisi, concerned only with humanity, has by love contrived the Renaissance of man, assured as he was by the love of God, His delight in us His creatures. But for Dante, bitter with loneliness, wandering in the Hell, the Purgatory, the Paradise of his own heart, any such wide and overwhelming love might seem to have been impossible. Imprisoned in the adamant of his personality, he has little but hatred and contempt for the world he knew so well. How scornful he is! Some secret sorrow seems to have burnt up the wells of sweetness in his nature, from which he once drew a love for all mankind. He seems to have gone about hating people, so that if he speaks of Florence it is with a passionate enmity, if of Siena with scorn, Pisa has only his contempt, Arezzo is to him abominable and beastly. He has judged his country as God Himself will not judge it, and he kept his anger for ever. And since the great Florentine can bring himself to bid Florence

"Godi, Fiorenza poi che sei si grande Che per mare, e per terra batti l'ali, E per l'Inferno il tuo nome si spande,"

it is not wonderful that Pistoja is lost in his scorn. Coming upon Vanni Fucci continually consumed by the adder, he hears him say

"Ahi Pistoja, Pistoja, che non stanzi D'incenerarti, si che piu non duri Poi che in mal far lo seme tuo avanzi?"

"O Giustizia di Dio, quanto e severa,..." yet Dante's will beggar it.

The origin of Pistoja is obscure. Some ascribe its foundation to the Boian Gauls, some to the Romans; however that may be, it was here in Pistoria, as the city was then called, that the army of the Republic came up with Cataline, and defeated him and slew him in B.C. 62. There follows an impenetrable silence, unbroken till, by the will of the Countess Matilda, Tuscany passed, not without protest as we know, to the Pope, when Pistoja seems to have vindicated its liberty in 1117, its commune contriving her celebrated municipal statutes. In 1198 she made one of the Tuscan League against the empire, and in the first year of the thirteenth century she had extended her power over the neighbouring strongholds from Fucecchio to the Arno. After the death of Frederic II, in 1250, she became Guelph with the greater part of Tuscany, and in 1266 took part with Charles of Anjou and fought on his side at Benevento under the Pistojese captains, Giovanni and Corrado da Montemagno. About this time we first hear the name Cancellieri, Cialdo de' Cancellieri being Potesta. At Campaldino the Pistojese fought under Corso Donati, and turned the battle against the Aretines; and it was under the Potesta Giano della Bella in 1294[136] that the Priore of the twelve anziani, established after Campaldino, was named Gonfaloniere of Justice. Villani gives us a vivid picture of Pistoja in 1300. "In these times," says the prince of Florentine chroniclers, "the city of Pistoja being in happy and great and good estate, among the other citizens there was one family very noble and puissant, not, however, of very ancient lineage, which was called Cancellieri, born of Ser Cancelliere, which was a merchant and gained much wealth, and by his two wives had many sons, which, by reason of their riches, all became knights and men of worth and substance, and from them were born many sons and grandsons, so that at this time they numbered more than one hundred men in arms, rich and puissant and of many affairs; and indeed, not only were they the leading citizens of Pistoja, but they were among the more puissant families of Tuscany. There arose among them, through their exceeding prosperity, and through the suggestion of the devil, contempt and enmity, between them which were born of one wife and them which were born of the other; and the one took the name of the Black Cancellieri, and the other of the White, and this grew until they fought together, but it was not any great affair. And one of those on the side of the White Cancellieri, having been wounded, they on the side of the Black Cancellieri, to the end they might be at peace and concord with them, sent him which had done the injury and handed him over to the mercy of them which had received it, that they should take amend, and vengeance for it at their will; they on the side of the White Cancellieri, ungrateful and proud, having neither pity nor love, cut off the hand of him which had been commended to their mercy on a horse-manger. By which sinful beginning not only was the house of Cancellieri divided, but many violent deaths arose thereupon, and all the city of Pistoja was divided, for some held with one part and some with the other, and they called themselves the Whites and the Blacks, forgetting among themselves the Guelph and Ghibelline parties; and many civil strifes and much peril and loss of life arose therefore in Pistoja...." The Whites seem to have been little more than Ghibellines, to which party they presently allied themselves, when Andrea Gherardini was captain. This party soon got the upper hand in Pistoja, thus bringing down the hatred of the Lucchesi and the Fiorentini; a cruel siege and pillage—touchingly described by Dino Campagni—following in 1305. Exiled, the Whites thronged to the banner of Uguccione, and helped to win the battle of Montecatini in 1305. This done, Uguccione became tyrant of Pistoja till Castruccio Castracani flung him out, and by the will of Lewis of Bavaria became himself tyrant of the city, defeating the Florentines again in 1325. In his absence the Florentines besieged Pistoja again three years later, and took it; the fortunate death of Castruccio confirming them in their conquest, which thus became the vassal of the Lily.

Such in brief is the story of Pistoja; but if we look a little more closely into the mere confusion of those wars, two facts will perhaps emerge clearly, and help us to understand the position.

Florence, a city of merchants, was the last power in Italy to make war for the pleasure of fighting, yet in turn she conquered every city in Tuscany, save Lucca alone.[137] What can have been the overmastering necessity that drove her on so bloody a path? Certainly not a love of empire, for she, who was so unfortunate in the art of government, was not likely to lust for dominion. Like all the Florentine wars, that which at last brought Pisa under her yoke was a war on behalf of the guilds of Florence, a war of merchants. Florence humbled Pisa because Pisa held the way to the sea, she brought Arezzo and Siena low and bought Cortona because they stood on the roads to Rome, whose banker she was.[138] And did not Pistoja guard the way to the north, to Bologna, to Milan, to Flanders, and England, whence came the wool that was her wealth?[139] Thus in those days as to-day, war was not a game which one might play or not as one pleased, but the inexorable result of the circumstances of life. When Bologna closed the passes, Florence was compelled to fight or to die; when Pisa taxed Florentine merchandise she signed her own death.

On the other hand, the passionate desire of Pistoja was to be free. Liberty—it was the dream of her life; not the liberty of the people, but the essential liberty of the State, of the city. So she was Ghibelline because Florence was Guelph. All her life long she feared lest Florence should eat her up: that death was ever before her eyes. This and this alone is the cause of the hate of the great Florentine: he hated Florence with an intolerable love because she thrust him out; he hated Pisa, Arezzo, Siena, and Pistoja because they feared or rivalled Florence, and would not be reconciled. His dream of an Italy united under a foreign Emperor, the ghost of the Roman Empire, remained a dream, noble and yet ignoble too. For it is for this that we may accuse him of a lack of clairvoyance, a real failure to appreciate the future, which in the innumerable variety of her cities gave Italy an intellectual life less sustained and clear than the intellectual life of Greece, but more spiritual and more various. In Italy Antiquity and Hebraism became friends, to our undoubted benefit, to the gain of the whole world.

But little is left in the smiling, gracious city to-day to recall those bitter quarrels so long ago. Pistoja, beyond any other Tuscan town perhaps, is full of grace, and gives one always, as it were, a smiling salutation. La Ferrignosa she was called of old, but it is the last title that fits her now, for the clank of her irons has long been silent, and nothing any longer disturbs the quiet of her days. S. Atto is her saint, and it is by his street that you enter the city, walled still, coming at last into the Piazza Cino, Cino da Pistoja, one of the sweetest and least fortunate of Tuscan poets. Turning thence into Via Cavour, you come to S. Giovanni Evangelista, once without the walls, but now not far from the middle of the city, really the earliest of her churches, a Lombard building of about 1160, the facade decorated somewhat in the Pisan manner with rows of pillars, while over the gates is a relief of the Last Supper, by Gruamonte, whom some have thought to be the architect of the church. Within is the beautiful pulpit of Fra Guglielmo, disciple of Niccolo Pisano, and there on the east he has carved the Annunciation and the Birth of Jesus; on the north, the Washing of the Disciples' Feet, the Crucifixion, the Deposition, and Christ in Hades; while on the west is the Ascension and the Death of the Virgin. And just as at Bologna, in the tomb of St. Dominic, Fra Guglielmo's work is but an inferior copy of the style of his master, so here in this pulpit, built most probably in 1270, we find just Niccolo's work spoiled, in a mere repetition, feeble, and without any of the devotional spirit we might expect in the work of a friar. Beside it, near the next altar, is a very beautiful group in glazed terra-cotta, in the manner of the della Robbia, by Fra Paolino. The holy water basin supported by figures of the Virtues is a much-injured work by Giovanni Pisano.

Following Via Cavour, past Palazzo Panciatichi-Cellesi, through Via Francesco Magni, into Piazza del Duomo, you are in the midst of all that was most splendid in Pistoja of old: the Duomo, with its old fortified tower, Torre del Potesta, which still carries the arms of those captains; the Baptistery, high above the way, designed by Andrea Pisano, with its open-air pulpit and broken sculptures; the magnificent Palazzo del Comune; and opposite, the not less splendid Palazzo Pretorio, the palace of the Podesta. Of old the Piazza was less spacious, but in 1312 it was enlarged, and later, too, the palace of the Capitano, on the north, was destroyed. Here every Wednesday they still hold the corn-market, and every Saturday a market of stuffs, silks, and tissues.

It was S. Romolo who first brought the gospel to Pistoja, and the tradition is that he converted a temple built by the Romans to the God Mars into a church, on the spot where now the Duomo stands,[140] and indeed in 1599 certain inscriptions were found, and the capitals of some Roman columns. It is generally thought that a church was built here in the early part of the fifth century, dedicated to St. Martin of Tours, on whose day Stilicho, that Roman general who was by birth a Vandal, gained a victory over Radaugasius and his army of some 400,000 Goths, who had ravaged the country as far as Florence in 406. However this may be, in 589 the church was finally rebuilt, and certainly re-dedicated to S. Zenone, the Bishop of Verona, who, so it was said, had saved the Pistojese from the floods by breaking through the Gonfolina Pass, that narrow defile beyond Signa through which the Arno flows, with the Ombrone in her bosom, into the Empolese. After being dedicated at various times to many saints, in 1443 it was given to S. Zenone, whose name it still bears. The present church is for the most part a work of the twelfth century, and certainly not the work of Niccolo Pisano. The facade, like the rest of the church, has suffered an unfortunate restoration. The marble loggia is a work of the fifteenth century, and the two statues are, one of S. Jacopo, by Scarpellino, the other of S. Zenone, by Andrea Vacca. The beautiful terra-cotta over the great door of Madonna and Child with Angels, and the roof above, are the work of Andrea della Robbia. The frescoes of the story of S. Jacopo are fourteenth-century work of Giovanni Balducci the Pisan.

The splendid and fierce Campanile, still called Torre del Potesta, stood till about the year 1200, alone, a stronghold of the city. Giovanni Pisano converted it to its present form in 1301.

Within, the church has been greatly spoiled. The monument to Cino da Pistoja, poet and professor, was decreed in 1337 by the Popolo Pistojese, and was moved about the church from one place to another, till in 1839 it was erected in its present position. There you may see him lecturing to his students, and one of them is a woman; can it be that Selvaggia whom he loved?

"Ay me, alas! the beautiful bright hair ..."

"Weep, Pistoja," says Petrarch, in not the least musical of his perfect sonnets, in celebrating the death of his master—

"Pianga Pistoia e i cittadin perversi Che perdut' hanno si dolce vicino; E rallegres' il ciel or' ello e gito."

Dante, who exchanged sonnets with Cino and rallied him about his inconstancy, calls the Pistojese worthy of the Beast[141] who dwelt among them; Petrarch calls them i cittadin perversi; the truth being that the Neri were in power and had exiled "il nostro amoroso messer Cino."

Close by, against the west wall, is the great font of Andrea Ferrucci, the disciple of Bernardo Rossellino, with five reliefs of the story of St. John Baptist. Opposite Cino's monument is the tomb of Cardinal Fortiguerra. For long this disappointing monument, so full of gesticulation, passed as the work of Verrocchio; it is to-day attributed rather to Lorenzetto, his disciple.

Passing up the north aisle, we enter at last the Cappella del Sacramento, under whose altar St. Felix, the Pistojese, sleeps, while on the south wall hangs one of the best works of Lorenzo di Credi, Madonna with Jesus in her arms, and St. John Baptist and S. Zenone on either side. Opposite is the bust of Bishop Donato de' Medici, by Antonio Rossellino. The little crypt under the high altar is scarcely worth a visit, but the great treasure of the church, the silver frontal of the high altar, is now to be found in the Cappella della Citta, and over it, in a chest within the reredos, is the body, still uncorrupted, of S. Atto, Bishop of Pistoja, who died in 1155. The silver frontal, certainly the finest in Italy, with its wings and reredos of silver and enamel, was removed from the high altar in 1786. It is the work of Andrea di Puccio di Ognibene, the Pistojese goldsmith: it was finished in 1316. It is carved with fifteen stories from the New Testament, and with many statues of prophets and pictures of saints. Of the two wings, that on the left, consisting of stories from the Old Testament, with the Nativity, the Presentation and the Marriage of the Virgin, is the work of Pietro of Florence—it was finished about 1357; that on the right, carved in 1371 by Leonardo di Ser Giovanni, consists of the story of St. James and the finding of his body at Campostella. All the guide-books tell you that it was this treasure that Vanni Fucci stole on Shrove Tuesday in 1292, but, as I suppose, since this altar was not begun till 1314, it must have been the earlier treasure which this replaced. Vanni Fucci is famous because of his encounter with Dante in Hell.

"Vanni Fucci am I called, Not long since rained down from Tuscany To this dire gullet. Me the bestial life And not the human pleased, mule that I was, Who in Pistoja found my worthy den."

Dante tell us—

"I did not mark Through all the gloomy circles of the abyss, Spirit that swelled so proudly 'gainst his God."[142]

It is in Pistoja better almost than anywhere else in Italy that these early sculptors—men who were at work here before Niccolo Pisano came from Apulia—may be studied. Rude enough as we may think, they are yet in their subtle beauty, if we will but look at them, the marvellous product of a time which many have thought altogether barbarous. Consider, then, the reliefs over the door of S. Giovanni Fuorcivitas, or the sculptures on the fagade of S. Bartolommeo in Pantano, the work of Rodolfinus and Guido Bigarelli of Como: they are all works of the twelfth century, and it is, as I think, no naive beginning we see, but the last hours of an art that is already thousands of years old, about to be born again in the work of Pisano. And indeed we may trace very happily the rise of Tuscan sculpture in Pistoja. Though she possesses no work of Niccolo himself, his influence is supreme in the pulpit of S. Giovanni Fuorcivitas, and it is the beautiful work of his son Giovanni we see in the great pulpit of S. Andrea, where you enter by a door carved in 1166 by Gruamonte with the Adoration of the Magi. Unlike the work of Fra Guglielmo in S. Giovanni, the pulpit of S. Andrea is hexagonal, and there Giovanni has carved in high relief the Birth of Our Lord, the Adoration of the Magi, the Murder of the Innocents, the Crucifixion, and the Last Judgment. They were carved in 1301, before Giovanni began the Pisan pulpit now in the Museo in that city. And if we see here the first impulse of the Gothic, the Romantic spirit, in Italian art, as in Niccolo's work we have seen the classic inspiration, it is the far result of these panels that we may discover in the terra-cotta frieze on the vestibule of the Ospedale del Ceppo. That is a work of the sixteenth century, and thus the fifteenth-century work, ever present with us in Florence, is missing here. It is not, however, to any member of the della Robbia clan that we owe this beautiful work, I think, but to some unknown sculptor with whom Buglioni may have worked. For the seven reliefs representing works of Charity and divided by figures of the Virtues are of a surprising splendour, a really classic beauty, and Burckhardt wishes to compare them with the frescoes of Andrea del Sarto and his companions rather than with the sculpture of that time.

One wanders about this quiet, alluring city, where the sculptures are scattered like flowers on every church porch and municipal building, without the weariness of the sightseer. One day you go by chance to S. Francesco al Prato, a beautiful and spacious church in a wilderness of Piazza, built in 1294. And there suddenly you come upon the little flowers of St. Francis, faded and fallen—here a brown rose, there a withered petal; here a lily broken short, there a nosegay drooped and dead: and you realise that here you are face to face with something real which has passed away, and so it is with joy you hurry out into the sun, which will always shine with splendour and life, the one thing perhaps that, if these dead might rise from their tombs in S. Francesco, they would recognise as a friend, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.

Other churches too there are in Pistoja: S. Piero Maggiore, where, as in Florence, so here, the Bishop, coming to the city, was wedded in a lovely symbol to the Benedictine Abbess—there too are the works of Maestro Bono the sculptor; S. Salvadore, which stands in the place where, as it is said, they buried Cataline; S. Domenico, where you may find the beautiful tombs of Andrea Franchi and of Filippo Lazzeri the humanist—this made by Rossellino in 1494. Pistoja is a city of churches; one wanders into them and out again always with new delight; and indeed, they lend a sort of gravity to a place that is light-hearted and alluring beyond almost any other in this part of Tuscany certainly. Thinking thus of her present sweetness, one is glad to find that one poet at least has thought Dante too hard with men. It is strange that it should be Cino who sings—

"This book of Dante's, very sooth to say, Is just a poet's lovely heresy, Which by a lure as sweet as sweet can be Draws other men's concerns beneath its sway; While, among stars' and comets' dazzling play, It beats the right down, let's the wrong go free, Shows some abased, and others in great glee, Much as with lovers is Love's ancient way. Therefore his vain decrees, wherein he lied, Fixing folks' nearness to the Fiend their foe, Must be like empty nutshells flung aside. Yet through the vast false witness set to grow, French and Italian vengeance on such pride May fall, like Antony's on Cicero."[143]


[136] Cf. Dino Campagni, Cronica Fiorentina, Book 1, p. 62. When appointed Podesta of Pistoja, Giano rather raised strife than pacified the factions. Cf. also Villari, History of Florence, p. 445.

[137] Strictly speaking, she never conquered Siena; Charles V did that.

[138] In the Middle Age, Cortona and Arezzo were not on the road to Rome, but so far as Florence was concerned, Siena, her holding that she acquired these cities to keep Via Aretina open. Cf. Repetti, v. 715.

[139] That Pistoja was not on the great Via Francesca goes for nothing, she threatened it.

[140] There is a most excellent little book, Nuova Guida di Pistoja, by Cav. Prof. Giuseppe Tigri (Pistoja, 1896), which I strongly recommend to the reader's notice. I wish to acknowledge my debt to it. Unlike so many guides, it is full of life itself, and makes the city live for us also.

[141] Bestia, probably a nickname of Vanni Fucci's; cf. Inferno, xxiv, 125.

[142] Inferno, xxiv. 125, 126; xxv. 13, 14.

[143] "Cino impugns the verdicts of Dante's Commedia," a sonnet translated by D.G. Rossetti.

Note.—No English writers have written well of Pistoja, for first they always write from a Florentine point of view, and then they quit too soon. I plead guilty too. The key-note to Pistoja is given in that saying of Macchiavelli's, that the Florentine people "per fuggire il nome di crudele lascio distruggere Pistoia." Il Principe, cap. xvii. Cf. also Discorsi iii. 27. It is, of course, all a matter of Panciatichi and Cancellieri. Cf. Zdekauer Statuti Pistoiesi dei Secoli xii. e xiii.


Who that has ever seen the Pistojese the Val di Lima, the country of S. Marcello, the Val di Reno, the country about Pracchia, does not love it—the silent ways through the chestnut woods, the temperance of the hill country after the heat of the cities, the country ways after the ways of the town? And there are songs there too. But to-day my way lies through the valley, Val di Nievole, towards Lucca, lost in the plain at the gate of the Garfagnana. Serravalle, with its old gateway and high Rocca, which fell to Castruccio Castracani; Monsummano, far on the left, with its old church in the valley; Montecatini, with its mineral springs; Buggiano, and Pescia with its mulberries, where the Church of S. Francesco hides and keeps its marvellous portrait of S. Francesco—these are the towns at the foot of the mountains that I shall pass before I turn into the plain between the island hills and come at last to Lucca, Lucca l'Ombrosa, round whose high ramparts that have stood a thousand sieges now in whispering ranks there stand the cool planes of the valley, the shadowy trees that girdle the city with a cintola of green and gold.

Lucca is the city of a great soldier, of one of the most charming of Tuscan sculptors, and of Santa Zita. Lucca l'Ombrosa I call her, but she is the city of light too—Luce, light; it is the patriotic derivation of her name. For One came to her with a star in His bosom, the Star of Bethlehem, that heralded the sweet dawn which crept through the valleys and filled them with morning; so Lucca was the first city in Italy, as they say, to receive the light of the gospel.

The foundation of this city, which alone of all the cities of Tuscany was to keep in some sort her independence till Napoleon wrested it from her, is obscure. She was not Etruscan, but possibly a Ligurian settlement that came into the power of Rome about 200 B.C., and by 56 B.C. we have certain news of her, for it was here that Caesar, Pompeius, and Crassus formed the triumvirate. Overwhelmed by the disasters that befell the Empire, we hear something of her in the sixth century, when S. Frediano came from Ireland, from Galway, and after a sojourn in Rome became a hermit in the Monti Pisani, till in 565 John III made him Bishop of Lucca. It seems to have been about this time that Lucca began to be of importance, after the fall of the Lombard rule, governed by her own Dukes. And then the Bishops of Lucca, those Bishop Counts who governed her so long, had a jurisdiction which extended to the confines of the Patrimony of St. Peter. The same drama no doubt was played in Lucca as in Pisa or Florence, a struggle betwixt nobles of foreign descent and the young commune of the Latin population. We find Lucca on the papal side in 1064, but in 1081 she joins the Emperor with Siena and Ferrara; but for the most part after Pisa became Ghibelline Lucca was Guelph, for her friends were the enemies of Pisa. Thus the fight went on, a fight really of self-preservation, of civic liberty as it were, each city prizing its ego above every consideration of justice or unity.

It was the fourteenth century that gave Lucca her great captain, Castruccio Castracani, the hero of Machiavelli's remarkable sketch, the sketch perhaps for the Prince. It is strange that Machiavelli should have cared to write of the only two men who might in more favourable circumstances have forged a kingdom out of various Republics, Lordships, Duchies, and Marquisates of the peninsula, Castruccio degli Intelminelli and Cesare Borgia.

It seems, to follow the virile yet subtle tale of Machiavelli, that at the end of the thirteenth century there was born out of the family of Castracani one Antonio, who, entering himself into Orders, was made a Canon of S. Michele in Lucca, and was even called Messer Antonio. He had for sister a widow of Buonaccorso Cinami, who at the death of her husband had come to live with him, resolved to marry no more. Now behind the house where he lived, Messer Antonio, good man, had a vineyard, and it happened one morning about sunrise that Donna Dianora (for that was the sister's name) walking in the vineyard to gather herbs for a salad (as women frequently do), heard a rustling under the leaves, and turning toward it she fancied it cried, and going towards it she saw the hands and face of a child, which, tumbling up and down in the leaves, seemed to call for relief. Donna Dianora, partly astonished and partly afraid, took it up very tenderly, carried it home, washed it, and having put it in clean clothes, presented it to Messer Antonio. "Eccololi!" says she, "and what will Messere do with this?" "Dianora," says he, with a gasp, "Dianora...!" "No, it is not," says she, fluttering suddenly with rage, "and I'll thank you, Messer Antonio," and that she said for spite, "I'll thank you to keep your lewd thoughts to yourself," says she, "and for the fine ladies, fine ladies," says she, "that come to see you at S. Michele," and she fell to weeping, holding the child in her arms. "I that might have had little hands (manine) under my chin many's the time if Buonaccorso had not died so old." And she carried the child out of his sight. Then Messer Antonio later, when he understood the case, being no less affected with wonder and compassion than his sister before him, debated with himself what to do, and presently concluded to bring the little fellow up; for, as he said, "I, Antonio, am a priest, and my sister hath no children." So he christened the child Castruccio after his own father, and Dianora looked to him as carefully as if he had been her own. Now Castruccio's graces increased with his years, and therefore in his heart Messer Antonio designed him for a priest; but Dianora would not have it so, and indeed he showed as yet but little inclination to that kind of life, which was not to be wondered at, his natural disposition, as Dianora said, tending quite another way. For though he followed his studies, when he was scarce fourteen years old he began to run after the soldiers and knights, and always to be wrestling and running, and soon he troubled himself very little with reading, unless it were such things as might instruct him for war. And Messer Antonio was sore afflicted.

Now the great house in Lucca at that time was Guinigi, and Francesco was then head of it. Ah! a handsome gentleman, rich too, who had borne arms all his life long under the Visconti of Milan. With them he had fought for the Ghibellines till the Lucchesi looked upon him as the very life of that party. This Francesco was used to walk in Piazza S. Michele, where one day he watched Castruccio playing among his companions. Seeing his strength and confidence, he called him to him, and asked him if he did not prefer a gentleman's family, where he could learn to ride the great horse and exercise his arms, before the cloister of a churchman. Guinigi had only to look at him to see which way his heart jumped, so not long after he made a visit to Antonio and begged Castruccio of him in so pressing and yet so civil a manner, that Antonio, finding he could not master the natural inclinations of the lad, let him go.

Often after that, Dianora and Antonio too, seeing him ride by in attendance on Francesco, would admire with what address he sat his horse, with what grace he managed his lance, with what comeliness his sword; and indeed scarce any of his age dare meet him at the Barriere. He was about eighteen years old when he made his first campaign. For the Guelphs had driven the Ghibellines out of Pavia, and Visconti sought the help of his friends, among them of Francesco Guinigi. Francesco gave Castruccio a company of foot, and marched with him to help Visconti: and Castruccio won such reputation in that fight, that his name galloped through Lombardy, and when he returned to Lucca the whole city had him in respect.

Not long after, Guinigi fell sick; in truth he was about to die. Seeing, then, that he had a son scarcely thirteen years old, called Pagolo, he gave him into Castruccio's charge, begging him to show the same generosity to his son as he had received from him. And all this Castruccio promised.

Now the head of the Guelph party in Lucca was a certain Signor Giorgio Opizi, who hoped when Francesco was dead to get the city into his power, so that when he saw Castruccio so well thought of and so strong, he began to speak secretly of a new tyranny, by which he meant the growing favour of Castruccio. Pisa at this time was under the government of Uguccione della Faggiuola of Arezzo, whom the Pisans had chosen as their captain, but who had made himself their lord. He had befriended certain Ghibellines banished from Lucca, and therefore Castruccio entered into secret treaty with him in order that these exiles might be restored. So he furnished in Lucca the Tower of Honour, which was in his charge, in case he might have to defend it. He met Uguccione on the night appointed, between Lucca and the hills towards Pisa, and, agreeing with him, Uguccione marched on the city to St. Peter's Gate and set fire to it, while he attacked another on the other side of the town. Meanwhile, his friends within the city ran about in the night calling To your arms, and filled the streets with confusion; so that Uguccione easily entered, and, having seized the city, caused all the Opizi to be murdered as well as all the Guelphs he could find. Nor did he stop there, for he exiled one hundred of the best families, who immediately fled to Florence and Pistoja. The Florentines, seeing the Guelph power tottering, put an army in the field, and met the Pisans and Lucchesi at Montecatini. There followed the memorable battle called after that place, in which the Florentines lost some ten thousand men.[144] This was in 1315. Now whether, as Villani says, Uguccione won that battle, or, as Machiavelli asserts, was sick, so that the honour fell to Castruccio, there was already of necessity much jealousy between the two captains; for certainly Castruccio had not called on Uguccione to make him Lord of Lucca, nor had Uguccione obeyed that call for mere love of Castruccio. He therefore, being returned to Pisa, sent his son Nerli to seize Lucca and kill Castruccio, but the lad bungled it: when Uguccione himself set out to repair this, he found the city ready, demanding the release of Castruccio, whom Nerli had imprisoned. Seeing, then, the mood of the city, and that he had but four hundred horse with him, he was compelled to agree to this. And at once Castruccio, who was in no wise daunted, assembled his friends and flung Uguccione out of Lucca. Meantime the Pisans had themselves revolted, so that this tyrant was compelled to retire into Lombardy.

It was now that Castruccio saw his opportunity. He got himself chosen Captain-General of all the Lucchese forces for a twelvemonth, and began to reduce the surrounding places near and far which had come under the rule of Uguccione. The first of these to be attacked was Sarzana in Lunigiana. But first he agreed with Pisa, who in hatred of Uguccione sent him men and stores. Sarzana proved very strong, so that before he won it he was compelled to build a fortress beyond the walls, which we may see to this day. Thus Sarzana was taken, and later Massa, Carrara, and Avenza easily enough, until the whole of Lunigiana was in his power, even Fosdinovo, and later Remoli, and that was to secure his way to Lombardy. Then he returned to Lucca, and was received with every sort of joy.

About this time Ludovic of Bavaria came into Italy seeking the Imperial Crown, and Castruccio went to meet him with 500 horse, leaving Pagolo Guinigi his Deputy in Lucca. Ludovic received him with much kindness, making him Lord of Pisa and his vicar in all Tuscany: and thus Castruccio became the head of the Ghibelline party both in Lombardy and Tuscany. But Castruccio's aim went higher yet, for he hoped not only to be vicar but master indeed of Tuscany, and to this end he made a league with Matteo Visconti of Milan; and seeing that Lucca had five gates, he divided the country into five parts, and to every part he set a captain, so that presently he could march with 20,000 men beside the Pisans. Now the Florentines were already busy in Lombardy against Visconti, who besought Castruccio to make a diversion. This he readily did, taking Fucecchio and S. Miniato al Tedesco. Then hearing of trouble in Lucca, he returned and imprisoned the Poggi, who had risen against him; an old and notable family, but he spared them not. Meanwhile Florence retook S. Miniato; and Castruccio, not caring to fight while he was insecure at home, made a truce carefully enough, that lasted two years.

He now set himself first to make Lucca secure, and for this he built a fortress in the city; and then to possess himself of Pistoja—for he even thought thereby to gain a foothold in Florence herself—and for this he entered into correspondence secretly with both the Neri and the Bianchi there. These two factions did not hesitate to use the enemy of their city to help their ambitions, so that while the Bianchi expected him at one gate, the Neri waited at the other, the one receiving Guinigi and the other Castruccio himself with their men into the city. Not content with thus winning Pistoja, he thought to control the city of Rome also, which he did in the name of the Emperor, the Pope being in Avignon; and this done, he went through the city with two devices embroidered on his coat: the one before read, "He is as pleaseth God," and that behind, "And shall be what God will have him." Now the Florentines were furious at the cunning breach of their truce by which Castruccio had got himself Pistoja; so, while he was in Rome, they determined to capture the place: which they did one night by a ruse, destroying all Castruccio's party. And when he heard it, Castruccio came north in great anger. But at first the Florentines were too quick for him: they got together all of the Guelph league, and before Castruccio was back again, held Val di Nievole. Seeing their greatness—for they were 40,000 in number, while he on his return could muster but 12,000 men at most—he would not meet them in the plain, nor in the Val di Pescia, but resolved to draw that great army into the narrow ways of Serravalle, where he could deal with them. Now Serravalle is a Rocca not on the road but on the hillside above, and the way down into the valley is rather strait than steep till you come to the place where the waters divide: so strait that twenty men abreast take up all the way. That Rocca belonged to a German lord called Manfredi, whose throat Castruccio cheerfully cut. The Florentines, who were eager not only to hold all Val di Nievole but to carry the war away from Pistoja towards Lucca, knew nothing of Serravalle having fallen to Castruccio, so on they came in haste, and encamped above it, hoping to pass the straits next day. There Castruccio fell upon them about midnight, putting all to confusion. Horse and foot fell foul upon one another, and both upon the baggage. There was no way left for them but to run, which they did helter-skelter in the plain of Pistoja, where each man shifted for himself. But Castruccio followed them even to Peretola at the gates of Florence, carrying Pistoja and Prato on the way; there he coined money under their walls,[145] while his soldiers insulted over the conquered; and to make his triumph more remarkable, nothing would serve the turn but naked women must run Corsi on horseback under the very walls of the city. And to deliver their city from Castruccio, the Florentines were compelled to send to the King of Naples, and to pay him annual tribute.

But Castruccio's business was always spoiled by revolt, and this time it was Pistoja which rose, and later Pisa. Then the Guelphs raised a great army—30,000 foot and 10,000 horse it was—and after a little, while Castruccio was busy with Pisa, they seized Lastra, Signa, Montelupo, Empoli, and laid siege to S. Miniato: this in May 1328. Castruccio, in no wise discomposed, thought at last Tuscany was in his grasp; therefore he went to Fucecchio and entrenched himself with 20,000 foot and 4000 horse, leaving 5000 foot in Pisa with Guinigi. Fucecchio is a walled city on the other side of Arno opposite S. Miniato. There Castruccio waited; nor could he have chosen better, for the Florentines could not attack him without fording the river from S. Miniato, which they had taken, and dividing their forces. This they were compelled to do, and Castruccio fell upon and beat them, leaving some 20,000 of them dead in the field, while he lost but fifteen hundred. Nevertheless, that proved to be his last fight, for death found him at the top of his fortune; riding into Fucecchio after the battle, he waited a-horseback to greet his men at the great gate of the place which is still called after him. Heated as he was with the fight, it was the evening wind that slew him; for he fell into an ague, and, neglecting it, believing himself sufficiently hardened, it presently killed him, and Pagolo Guinigi ruled in his stead, but without his fortune.

Following that strangely successful career, that for Macchiavelli at any rate seemed like a promise of the Deliverer that was to come, the first of modern historians gives us many of Castruccio's sayings set down at haphazard, which bring the man vividly before us. Thus when a friend of his, seeing him engaged in an amour with a very pretty lass, blamed him that he suffered himself to be so taken by a woman—"You are deceived, signore," says Castruccio, "she is taken by me." Another desiring a favour of him with a thousand impertinent and superfluous words—"Hark you, friend," says Castruccio, "when you would have anything of me, for the future send another man to ask it." Something of his dream of dominion may be found in that saying of his when one asked him, seeing his ambition, how Caesar died, and he answered, "Would I might die like him!" Blamed for his severity, perhaps over the Poggi affair, one said to him that he dealt severely with an old friend—"No," says he, "you are mistaken; it was with a new foe." Something of his love for Uguccione—who certainly hated him, but whom he held in great veneration—may be found in his answer to that man who asked him if for the salvation of his soul he never thought to turn monk. "No," says he, "for to me it will be strange if Fra Nazarene should go to Paradise and Ugguccione della Faggiuola to Hell." And Macchiavelli says that what was most remarkable was that, "having equalled the great actions of Scipio and Philip, the father of Alexander, he died as they did, in the forty-fourth year of his age, and doubtless he would have surpassed them both had he found as favourable dispositions at Lucca as one of them did in Macedon and the other in Rome." Just there we seem to find the desire of the sixteenth century for unity that found expression in the deeds of Cesare Borgia, the Discorsi of Niccolo Macchiavelli.

The rest of the history of Lucca is a sort of unhappy silence, out of which from time to time rise the cry of Burlamacchi, a fool, yes, but a hero, the howling of the traitors, the whisper of feeble conspiracies, the purr of an ignoble prosperity, till in 1805 Napoleon came and made her his prey.


But to-day Lucca is like a shadowy pool hidden behind the Pisan hills, like a forgotten oasis in the great plain at the foot of the mountains, a pallid autumn rose, smiling subtly among the gardens that girdle her round about with a sad garland of green, a cincture of silver, a tossing sea of olives. However you come to her, you must pass through those delicate ways, where always the olives whisper together, and their million leaves, that do not mark the seasons, flutter one by one to the ground; where the cicale die in the midst of their song, and the flowers of Tuscany scatter the shade with the colours of their beauty. In the midst of this half-real world, so languidly joyful, in which the sky counts for so much, it is always with surprise you come upon the tremendous perfect walls of this city—walls planted all round with plane-trees, so that Lucca herself is hidden by her crown—a crown that changes as the year changes, mourning all the winter long, but in spring is set with living emeralds, a thousand and a thousand points of green fire that burst into summer's own coronet of flame-like leaves, that fades at last into the dead and sumptuous gold of autumn.

It is by Porta S. Pietro that we enter Lucca, coming by rail from Pistoja, and from Pisa too, then crossing La Madonnina and Corso Garibaldi by Via Nazionale, we come almost at once into Piazza Giglio, where the old Palazzo Arnolfi stands—a building of the sixteenth century that is now Albergo Universo. Thence by the Via del Duomo, past S. Giovanni, we enter the Piazza S. Martino, that silent, empty square before the Duomo. The little Church of S. Giovanni that we pass on the way is the old cathedral, standing on the site of a pagan temple, and rebuilt by S. Frediano in 573, after the Lombards had destroyed the first Christian building. The present church dates, in part at least, from the eleventh century, and the three white pillars of the nave are from the Roman building; but the real interest of the church lies in its Baptistery—Lombard work dug out of the earth which had covered it, the floor set in a waved pattern of black and white marble, while in the midst is the great square font in which the people of Lucca were immersed for baptism. Little else remains of interest in this the most ancient church in Lucca—only a fresco of Madonna with St. Nicholas and others, a fifteenth-century work in the north transept, and a beautiful window of the end of the sixteenth century in the Baptistery itself.

All that is best in Lucca, all that is sweetest and most naive, may be found in the beautiful Duomo, which Pope Alexander II consecrated in 1070,—Pope Alexander II, who had once been Bishop of Lucca. Non e finito, the sacristan, himself one of the most delightful and simple souls in this little forgotten city, will tell you—it is not finished; and indeed, the alteration that was made in the church in the early part of the fourteenth century—when the nave was lengthened and the roof raised—was never completed; and you may still see where, through so many centuries, that which was so well begun has awaited a second S. Frediano.

It is, however, the facade that takes you at once by its ancient smiling aspect, its three great unequal arches, over which, in three tiers, various with beautiful columns, rise the open galleries we have so loved at Pisa. Built, as it is said, in 1204 by Guidetto, much work remains in that beautiful frontispiece to one of the most beautiful churches in Italy that is far older than itself: the statue of S. Martino, the patron, for instance; that labyrinth, too, on the great pier to the right; and perhaps the acts of St. Martin carved between the doors, and below them three reliefs of the months, where in January you see man sitting beside the fire; in February, as is most right, fishing in the Serchio; in March, wisely pruning his trees; in April, sowing his seed; in May, plucking the spring flowers; in June, cutting the corn; in July, beating it out with the flail—the flail that is used to-day in every country place in Tuscany; in August, plucking the fruits; in September, treading the wine-press; in October, storing the wine; in November, ploughing; and in December, for the festa killing a pig. Over the door to the left is the earliest work, as it is said, of Nicolo Pisano, and beneath it an Adoration of the Magi, in which some have found the hand of Giovanni, his son; while above the great door itself Our Lord is in glory, with the Twelve Apostles beneath, and Madonna herself in the midst. Not far away, to the north beside the church, the rosy Campanile towers over Lucca, calling city and country too, to pray at dawn and at noon and at evening.

Within, the church is of a great and simple beauty; in the form of a Latin cross, divided into three naves by columns supporting round arches, over which the triforium passes across the transepts, lighted by beautiful Gothic windows: the glass is certainly dreadful, but far away in the choir the windows are filled still with the work of the old masters.

The most beautiful and the most wonderful treasure that the church holds, that Lucca itself can boast of, is the great tomb in the north transept, carved to hold for ever the beautiful Ilaria del Caretto, the wife of Paolo Guinigi, whose tower still blossoms in the spring, since she has sat there. It is the everlasting work of Jacopo della Quercia, the Sienese. On her bed of marble the young Ilaria lies, like a lily fallen on a rock of marble, and in her face is the sweet gravity of all the springs that have gone by, and in her hand the melody of all the songs that have been sung; her mouth seems about to speak some lovely affirmation, and her body is a tower of ivory. Can you wonder that the sun lingers here softly, softly, as it steps westward, or that night creeps over her, kissing her from head to foot slowly like a lover? Who was the vandal who robbed so great and noble a thing as this of the relief of dancing children which was found in the Bargello in 1829, and returned here only in 1887?

It is, however, the work of another man, a Lucchese too, that fills the Duomo and Lucca itself with a sort, of lyric sweetness in the delicate and almost fragile sculpture of Matteo Civitali. In the south transept he has carved the monument to Pietro da Noceto, the pupil of Pope Nicholas V, and close by, the tomb of Domenico Bertini, his patron, while in the Cappella del Sacramento are two angels from his hands, kneeling on either side the tabernacle. It was he who built the marble parapet, all of red and white, round the choir, the pulpit, and the Tempietto in the nave, gilded and covered with ornaments to hold the Volto Santo, setting there the beautiful statue of St. Sebastian, which we look at to-day with joy while we turn away from that strange and marvellous shrine of the holy face of Jesus which we no longer care to see. Yet one might think that crucifix strange and curious enough for a pilgrimage, beautiful, too, as it is, with the lost beauty of an art as subtle and lovely as the work of the Japanese. "It is really," says Murray, "a work of the eleventh century"; but the Lucchesi will not have it so, for they tell you that it was carved at the bidding of an angel by Nicodemus, and that he, unable to finish his work, since his memory was too full of the wonder of the reality, returning to it one day, perhaps to try again, found it miraculously perfect. At his death it passed into the hands of certain holy men, who, to escape from the fury of the iconoclasts, hid it, till in 782 a Piedmontese bishop found it by means of a vision, and put it aboard ship and abandoned it to the sea. So the tale runs. Cast hither and thither in the waves, the ship at last came ashore at Luna, where the Bishop of Lucca was staying in the summer heat. So, led by God, he would have borne it to Lucca; but the people of Luna, who had heard of its sanctity, objecting, it was placed in a cart drawn by two white oxen, and, as it had been abandoned to the sea, so now it was given to the world. But the oxen, which in fact came from the fields of Lucca, returned thither, to the disgust of the people of Luna, and to the great and holy joy of the Bishop of Lucca, as we may imagine. Such is the tale; but the treasure itself is a crucifix of cedar wood of a real and strange beauty. Whether it be European work or Asiatic I know not, nor does it matter much, since it is beautiful. Dante, who spent some time in Lucca, and there loved the gentle Gentucca, whose name so fortunately chimed with that of the city, speaks of the Volto Santo in Inferno, xxi. 48, when in the eighth circle of Hell, over the lake of boiling pitch, the devils cry—

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse