advertisement

Particularly on a sunny day, San Frediano's facade vies with those of the Duomo and San Michele as the most attention-grabbing in town, with a glittering 13th-century mosaic two stories high taking the place of the other churches' stacks of columns. Berlinghiero Berlinghieri designed it in a Byzantine/medieval style and threw just enough color into the apostles and ascending Christ to balance the tens of thousands of gold-leaf tiles for a truly eye-popping effect. The original church here was built by Irish Bishop Frediano in the 6th century, and when the current structure was rebuilt (1112-47), it was rededicated to the by-then-sanctified Frediano.

All the interior works are well labeled, and the highlight is just inside the entrance, a Romanesque baptismal font in the right aisle from around the 12th century, dismantled and squirreled away in the 18th century and reassembled only a few decades ago. A Lombard sculptor gave us the stories of Moses on the large lower basin, and one Maestro Roberto signed the last two panels of the Good Shepherd and six prophets. The small tempietto sprouting out of the top was carved by a Tuscan master, with the apostles and months of the year on the lid. High up on the wall is a glazed terra-cotta lunette attributed to Andrea dell Robbia of the Annunciation framed by garlands of fruit and a chorus line of winged putti heads. Matteo Civitali carved the 15th-century polychrome Madonna Annunciata in the corner.

Up to the left of the high altar is a massive stone monolith, probably pilfered from the nearby Roman amphitheater. The Cappella Trenta, fourth in the left aisle, contains another Jacopo della Quercia masterpiece, an altar carved with the help of his assistant Giovanni da Imola (1422) as well as a pair of tombstones from the master's chisel.

Lucca's finest fresco cycle is in the second chapel of the left aisle, painted by Amico Aspertini (1508-09): In the Miracles of St. Frediano, the Irish immigrant bishop saves Lucca from a flood -- although he symbolically performs a miracle in the middle ground by raking a new path for the water to be diverted away from the city, naked-torsoed workmen take the prudent, pragmatic step of building a dam as well; the group of noblemen on the left (who aren't doing the least bit to help) are probably portraits of Luccan bigwigs of the day. In the Arrival in Lucca of the Volto Santo, opposite, the legend says the pair of heifers drag the holy statue, which washed ashore at the port of Luni in the background, to Lucca of their own volition, accompanied only by Luni's bishop. But here they're joined by a crowd of singing monks, townsfolk, and a stooped old lady in voluminous red robes who steals the show down in front.

Around the left side of the church and down Via Battisti, at Via degli Asili 33, is the 17th-century Palazzo Pfanner (tel. 0583-491-243), whose sumptuous 18th-century walled garden out back was featured in Jane Campion's 1996 film Portrait of a Lady. Admission is 4€ each to visit the gardens or the palazzo (or 5.50€ for both). It's open March to October daily from 10am to 6pm. If you walk around the city's ramparts you can look down into the gardens for free.

The Patron Saint of Ladies-in-Waiting -- Just beyond the font inside San Frediano is the Cappella di Santa Zita (Chapel of St. Zita), built in the 17th century to preserve the glass-coffined body of the saint and painted with her miracles by Francesco del Tintore. Zita is the patron saint of ladies-in-waiting and maids everywhere who, as a serving girl in the 13th-century Fatinelli household, was caught sneaking out bread in her apron to feed beggars on the street. Her suspicious master demanded to know what she was carrying, to which she answered, "Roses and flowers." She opened her apron and, with a little divine intervention, that's what the bread had become. Every April 26, the Lucchesi carpet the piazza of the nearby amphitheater with a dazzling flower market to commemorate the miracle and bring out the glass coffin containing her shrunken body to the front of the church to venerate.