Every year, the city of Lucca celebrates The Festa di Santa Croce. As expected, last year’s event was canceled but this year it was brought back, although on a smaller scale. The events begin on the evening of September 13 with the Cross di Santa Croce carried through the streets of the historic center.
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What makes this event extra special? The street lights along the procession route are shut off and lit with thousands of lights and candles. And we were present for this year’s festival!
Knowing we were not allowed to stand in the streets, our friends JoAn and Jim suggested we eat dinner in Piazza Napoleon. This was a great idea as we would be along the route of the procession. We could enjoy dinner while watching and listening to the Festa. Occasionally that meant JoAn and I would leave the table to capture some photos.
The Festa di Santa Croce Event
The evening procession follows a specific route – specifically, the “miraculous route” of the Volto Santo, the wooden crucifix kept in the Cathedral of San Martino.
The procession begins with the Stendardo del Volto Santo, a work painted by the Lucchese artist Michele Marucci at the end of the 19th century. This banner is painted in oil, both on the front and back. It depicts the Holy Face surrounded by adoring angels and cherubs. It is surrounded by a large frame in silk taffeta decorated in gold
Next in the procession line is the Croce di Fiori (flower cross), carried out each year by the flower cultivators of Viareggio.
The Specific Route of the Procession
The procession itinerary begins in the Basilica of San Frediano and then continues along the main street in Lucca, Via Fillungo. It then goes to Piazza San Michele, around Piazza Napoleon through Piazza del Griglio, and ends in Piazza San Martino.
The Festa di Santa Croce 2021 Event
Due to restrictions, this year’s event only had 700 religious and civil participants. Spectators were not allowed to stop in the streets to watch the procession or follow it. Main piazzas were identified and publicized where you could watch the procession with a maximum of 2000 people. Side streets were off-limits to avoid gatherings.
I had read that in past years, the procession was so long that the beginning of the procession ended at the Cathedral long before the end of the procession actually started. This year was quite different. A bit disappointing for us who had never seen the procession before. We didn’t get to see the streets dark with the lights lit but will be something to look forward to in the future, and then compare.
The Following Day
On September 14th, the festival continues with the gates to Volto Santo open to the public during the day and a solemn mass at 5:00 pm. This mass gives participants the chance to worship and pray to the Volto Santo. According to legend, The Volto Santo arrived mysteriously from the Holy Land to Lucca on an unmanned ox and cart.