Churches of Lucca and the Garfagnana

I’m often asked whether my food and wine tours also include cultural sites and activities. They do. Resembling Rudyard Kipling’s elephant child with a ‘satiable curtiosity’, although I haven’t met my crocodile — yet, I ask ever so many questions and include everything and anything that turns out to be interesting. One tour is based around traditional spinning, dyeing and weaving. Sometimes there’s a concert with music by Puccini, a native son of Lucca. Since I’m posting this on Easter Sunday from a Catholic country, I’ll tell you about some of the churches in Lucca and the Garfagnana that I take my guests to see.

Barga duomo

My all-time favourite is the duomo (cathedral) at Barga on the edge of the Garfagnana. Parts of it date back to 1000 AD.  Inside the hush is palpable. The wordless stones breathe tranquility and peace, and golden light seeps through the alabaster windows.

Alabaster windows

A magnificent marble pulpit stands alongside naive romanesque heads and inlaid figures.


A 3.5 m (11.5 ft) tall mediaeval carved wooden St Christopher with an undersized baby Jesus on his shoulder keeps guard over the whole church from his place in the apse. From the piazza in front of the church, you look over Barga and the Serchio River valley to the craggy Alpi Apuane opposite. Even though I’m not religious, I often go sit in this peaceful haven.

View from Barga duomo of the Alpi Apuane

Lucca has been called the ‘city of a hundred churches’. The Basilica of San Frediano stands out for its mosaic façade, the only one in Lucca.

San Frediano

Mosaic on façade of San Frediano

But what draws me there is one painting, one wooden statue and especially Santa Zita. Zita, a serving girl in a noble household, was a favourite of the family. However, she had a secret. Every evening she sneaked into the kitchen, wrapped the leftover bread in her apron and took it away to give to the poor. The other servants, being jealous, told their master she was stealing. He could hardly believe it. He waited for her one evening and challenged her to open her apron. She was very frightened but did as she was commanded and, by a miracle, in place of the bread, her apron was full of flowers. Her somewhat gruesome mummy, lying in a glass coffin in a side chapel, is redeemed by her blue servant’s dress, crisp white apron and the legend of her charity.

Santa Zita

If there isn’t a good story, I make one up. I’ve invented one about San Michele, in the Roman Forum of Lucca, and the duomo, San Martino. Ranks of decorated columns are stacked up their façades.

San Martino, Lucca

San Michele and Easter market

I like to imagine an annual column competition with the winner getting his (I expect there weren’t any female sculptors then) column added to the row. Maybe the runners up also got theirs up there, or else it would have taken an exceedingly long time to collect so many pillars. Of course I admit this as my own fantasy.

Columns of San Martino

Columns of San Michele

Perhaps this church in Villa Basilica, outside Lucca, with far fewer columns was the trial run for the column competition?

Duomo, Villa Basilica, during festival of paper

There are so many exquisite romanesque churches in the countryside I’m tempted to design a walking tour visiting them along with food and wine producers and restaurants on the route.

Erica Jarman invites you on inspiring culinary tours of life behind the scenes that you won't find in any guidebook — get to know the food artisans and craftspeople of Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Piedmont and Liguria. Come join me and my Italian friends and dip into a lifestyle where lunch is more important than business. Find out more at Sapori e Saperi Adventures and follow Erica’s own adventures on her blog.

Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.




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8 Responses to Churches of Lucca and the Garfagnana

  1. So glad to see Lucca again, Heather….I’ve not been there in many years and now I see I’ll need to make a journey there, soon. Great pictures, too!

  2. Heather Jarman says:

    Cheryl, I’d love to welcome you to Lucca again, and also take you up to the Garfagnana. Both are beautiful and there’s so much to see.

  3. Eva says:

    Non sono stata mai in Italia. Thank you for nice travel in pictures. I liked a lot.

  4. antonella says:

    nice post, thank you! 🙂

  5. Heather Jarman says:

    I’m glad you like the pictures. You must come visit sometime. It’s even better seeing the real thing.

  6. Heather Jarman says:

    Grazie. It’s a valued compliment coming from you.

  7. SO wonderful to see Barga on your website. It’s my grandmother’s birthplace and I always thought the village was my little secret. Thank you for sharing the photos. What a great way to start my weekend. 🙂

  8. Heather Jarman says:

    So glad I could add some joy to your weekend. It’s a favourite place of mine. Let me know if you’re ever coming to visit your roots.

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