San Frediano and Saint Zita

San Frediano and Saint Zita

Every year or two my sisters and brother and I travel somewhere together. Our “sibling trip” for 2018 was a record-setter, though. Not a long weekend like most of those trips, this time we spent two weeks in Italy, and a few other family members joined us.

20180327_123832_002 (2)First stop: Lucca. First day in Lucca: a walking tour that included the Basilica of San Frediano. This Gothic church retains much of its early medieval character, something I love to find in Italy, where many Gothic churches have been rebuilt in Baroque style (often due to earthquake damage to the original).

San Frediano himself was Irish, and settled in Lucca after a pilgrimage to Rome in the 6th century. He became a bishop, and is said to have miraculously changed the course of the River Serchio near Lucca, saving the city from flooding.

My sister, Marlie, (above) doesn’t always share my medieval obsessions, but she was eager to see this church. She was fascinated with the “incorruptible St. Zita” whose mummified remains lie in one of the chapels there. As a servant girl in the 1200’s, Zita took leftover food without permission, and gave it to the hungry. One day  her master stopped her as she left the house, her apron filled with bread, and demanded to know what she was carrying. With her job on the line, she reluctantly opened her apron, and flower petals fell to the ground. When Zita died at age 60, the family she served had come to honor her. She was canonized in 1696. Her body was exhumed and found to have mummified rather than decayed.

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The basilica contains many Gothic details, as well as the largest candlesticks I have ever seen. The beautiful gold mosaic facade representing the ascension of Christ was added in the 13th and 14th centuries.

When Frediano came to Lucca, he built a church on this site, which was then outside the Roman walls of the city. The city walls have been rebuilt and expanded twice, and the current wall–another treasure of Lucca–survives from the Renaissance era. The basilica is now within the walls. More on the walls in another post!

Lucca proved to be a great location for day trips–we visited Florence, Cinque Terre, and Carrara. We also took a cooking class together–all seven of us! And spent some of our days wandering the historic center of the city, where the traditional silk weaving which made the city wealthy is still practiced, and gelato is plentiful!

Good Friday in Lucca

Good Friday in Lucca

This year I will be in Lucca on Good Friday, March 30, with a family group of seven adults. As you might expect, a religious procession is usually held on that day, and I have read that the participants sometimes wear historical garb. That rings my bell!

I attended a (very long) religious procession in L’Aquila in 2004, the Perdonanza. Here are a few photos, culled from more than 300, which showed the costumes I especially liked.  Because the Perdonanza recognizes a medieval event, while Good Friday recalls ancient/Biblical times, the clothing will likely be different. Regardless, I plan to be there taking photos and contemplating those ancient events.

These are pre-earthquake photos of L’Aquila. Hope you enjoy them!

 

Pompeii’s art treasures

Pompeii’s art treasures

In a few weeks my sisters, brother-in-law, and niece will visit Pompeii for the first time. I can hardly wait to see their reactions to that amazing place! Here are some photos from my last visit there. Mosaic tiles, sculpture, fresco, and beautiful detail–imagine what a rich atmosphere this place had in its day!

Dracula in Naples?

VladTepes1485Southern Italy is full of surprises for me, and here is the latest: reported evidence that the 15th century Eastern European prince known as Vlad Dracula is buried in Naples! I knew that the royal family of Naples in this period had ties to several Eastern European kingdoms and principalities, but I had never heard the story related in this article from Hurriyet Daily News. And his daughter married a Neapolitan nobleman? As a novelist with a lifelong fascination with all things medieval, I want to know her story! Better yet, write her story.

Earliest known image of Vlad Dracula, published in Germany in 1488, is in the Public Domain, and found at Wikimedia Commons.

Do you find the claims in the article convincing? Intriguing? Preposterous?

 

About Pompeii: A New Book

Day of FireSome of you kn0w, from earlier posts, that I think the ancient ruins of Pompeii are fascinating, and a “must see” for visitors to the Italian south. I have been there twice, and would not hesitate to see it again.

Sandy in Pompeii 2004

First visit to Pompeii, Feb. 2004

And now, in fiction, the ancient city can come alive for you in the 2014 novel A Day of Fire. The story (I should say “stories”) takes place in Pompeii on the day of the disastrous eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., following the interwoven lives of several characters. Many are actual people who lived in Pompeii, some known by name and some only by the remains found as the city has been unearthed in the last 150 years or so. A few are fictional characters. All are brought to vivid fullness by the author–and here I really must say “authors” because this is a collaborative novel written by a team of six novelists: Stephanie Dray, Ben Kane, E. Knight, Sophie Perinot, Kate Quinn, and Vicky Alvear Shecter.

I don’t often read Roman era historical fiction, but was intrigued by the collaborative writing to begin with. Then the ‘anchor’ character drew me in, the teenage Pliny the Younger, whose writings provide the only eyewitness account of the disaster. Throw in some gladiators, prostitutes, senators, reluctant brides, pregnant women… Their fast-paced stories carried me through to the end, when the city is only a heap of steaming rubble, soon to be lost for more than 1,500 years.

While each author focused on one or two primary characters in the six sections, the cameo appearances of characters highlighted in other parts of the book made for fun reading, and the urgency of the disaster drove me on, wondering if and how any of them could escape.

I recommend this book to you! And please comment when you’ve read it to let me know what you think.

 

Capodimonte porcelain–a royal tradition from Naples

In the early 1700s, porcelain produced at Meissen became all the rage in Europe. The King of Naples and Sicily, Charles VII, married Maria Amalia, whose grandfather Augustus II of Poland had founded the Meissen factory, the first hard-paste porcelain factory in Europe.

18th c. Capodimonte porcelain examples from the National Gallery of Victoria (Australia). Photo: by Sailko, from Wikimedia Commons.

18th c. Capodimonte porcelain examples from the National Gallery of Victoria (Australia). Photo: by Sailko, from Wikimedia Commons.

Pursuing his interest in the art, Charles VII founded the Capodimonte (top of the mountain) Porcelain factory in Naples in 1743. Production was well under way when Charles’ father, the King of Spain, died in 1759 and Charles took the Spanish throne and left the throne of Naples to his son Ferdinand. Before he left, however, he ordered the porcelain works demolished, and took the molds with him to Spain to found another factory there.

Ferdinand IV wasn’t so easily dissuaded–he had come to appreciate the porcelain art himself, and re-established the Capodimonte factory in 1772.  The detailed history (some found here) is more complex and involved a lot of experimentation with the porcelain “recipe”, hiring of various artists, chemists, directors, and so forth, and the establishment in Naples of an art academy.

Elaborate bisque figures, "The Triumph of Bacchus" from the Capodimonte Museum in Naples. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Elaborate bisque figures, “The Triumph of Bacchus” from the Capodimonte Museum in Naples. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Ferdinand was soon embroiled in Napoleon’s schemes for Italy, (I’ve posted about that before) and production of the royal sponsored Capodimonte porcelain ceased around 1818. The factory was purchased by Claudio Guillard and Giovanni Tourne, who continued to used the same mark as the royal factory. In 1834 the company was purchased by a Florentine, and about 1896 they combined interests with the Societa Ceramica Richard of Milan. They continue to produce porcelain in the Capodimonte style, and the style is widely copied today.

The Judgement of Paris, now in the Capitoline Museum in Rome. Colorful and elaborate figures typically linked with Capodimonte style. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The Judgement of Paris, now in the Capitoline Museum in Rome. Colorful and elaborate figures typically linked with Capodimonte style. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Most of the 18th century products are in museums or collections of the wealthy today. Are you interested in buying some later pieces? Here are some listing from Ebay.com. Some claim to be 19th century pieces, and others are newer.

QUESTION: What is your favorite art or craft from southern Italy? Please comment!

A visit to Segesta–secondhand.

I have yet to visit Sicily, though a couple of my favorite books about Italy take place there. (See the book reviews here and here.) Today I’m sharing another writer’s experience visiting one of Sicily’s premier ancient sites, the Greek temple at Segesta.

The ancient Greek temple at Segesta. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The ancient Greek temple at Segesta. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Honestly, I just read about Segesta in another book yesterday. I was reading aloud to my mother as we sat in the car, waiting in line for a ferry across Puget Sound.

Then I saw that the Sicilian Housewife has a guest post about a visit to Segesta, along with wonderful photos. The journey to Segesta is as entertaining as the photos. So sit back and enjoy a mini trip to Sicily today! Just click here.