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!

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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.