San Martino, Lucca's Cathedral
- Piazza San Martino
- Entry ticket
- For just the cathedral and sacristy, €3; for 5 monuments (cathedral and sacristy, museum, Church of St. Giovanni and Reparata, archeological area and bell tower), € 7; for 2 monuments (cathedral and museum or Church of St. Giovanni), €5. Families up to 5 members, reduced ticket € 20. Children under 14 with adult enter free. Groups over 15 persons receive a €2 discount per person.
- Opening hours
- Monday-Friday 9:30am-5:45pm, Saturdays 9:30am-4:45pm, Sundays 9:30am-10:15am and 11am-5pm
Lucca's Cathedral is located in a secluded location of the old city center, just outside the main tourist itinerary through the city (the one inside the walls, to be clear) that follows the main street called Il Fillungo.
Of course, there’s a reason that explains this unusual location: the Cathedral was built during the sixth century, at that period the most central and important area (from an urbanistic point of view) was already too congested - only later, in fact, the more famous square of San Michele, in the heart of the city center, will be chosen for the construction of the church bearing the same name.
That’s why the choice fell into a square where other religious buildings already looked out onto: San Martino Square.
If you get there by train, the square is not far from the station: just walk towards the nearest gate (usually referred to as porta - door) along the famous walls of Lucca, known since they are completely walkable, and you’ll immediately identify the square from the bell tower that stands high above the buildings.
The Cathedral, a typical example of Gothic in Lucca style!
Reworked over the years (at least several times), the Cathedral humbly stands before those tourists that discover the square for the first time, where a colored multitude of different architectural styles and buildings from different eras, both civil and religious, alternate and give life to this place that may appear almost devoid of character at the first impression.
No doubt that both the context and buildings are a bit different from those in Florence, for example, but believe me, they’re no less fascinating!
The Cathedral is in Gothic Romanesque style, with a polychrome marble facade that reminds one of the Cathedral in Pisa (except for the bas-reliefs and representations dedicated to St. Martin, the patron saint of both the Cathedral and the town, that have been added). There’s also a portico with three arches where it’s said that pilgrims traveling along the Via Francigena used to trade with money changers. Lucca was, in fact, an important pilgrim destination and a point of connection along the Via Francigena route.
The Holy Face of Lucca, a work nothing short of legendary
The Cathedral was, and continues to be, home to the famous Holy Face of Lucca, or Volto Santo di Lucca, the venerated wooden, robed Christ on a crucifix. Legend says it was carved by Nicodemus, a disciple of Christ, to capture His semblance, and has gone through, undamaged, endless adversities on its way to Lucca in the eighth century. Its importance grew so much that it became the symbol of the city.
Sometimes I stop in front of this building and begin to imagine how it could have been those many years ago: I can almost hear people buzzing far away, always louder as I get closer to the porch, where multiethnic crowds of visitors, pilgrims, traders and religious made this holy place full of life and of boisterous respect! Perhaps, as inscriptions testify, this Sacred place was a guarantee against any type of fraud, who knows!
I don’t enter the Cathedral every time I visit San Martino Square, but I highly recommend a visit to all who have never been before. From inside, you will feel that perception of verticality/proximity to God or whoever/whatever you want to, a characteristic typical of Gothic buildings that its external appearance gives only partially, although the arches (not ogive, to be more precise, the former are round-shaped, the latter are characterized instead by the tip which culminates with the bow) fade this impression a bit.
Ilaria del Carretto or...Mrs Guinigi
Besides the work of several Italian artists’ inside, mainly from the Renaissance period, such as Tintoretto and Fra Bartolomeo, the Cathedral is renowned for being home to three great masterpieces, the first of which is Ilaria del Carretto’s tomb, realized by Jacopo della Quercia in commemoration of Paolo Guinigi’s wife (an influential Lucca politician, whose family contributed to the construction of the famous Torre Guinigi, the one with the tree on top). She died very young as a consequence of childbirth. The others are the Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints, by Ghirlandaio and, of course, the wooden crucifix of the Holy Face, housed in the temple of the Holy Face, realized at a later era by Matteo Cividali.
The crucifix is the prestigious protagonist of the Holy Cross celebrations, an important event that traditionally takes place on the 14th of September in Lucca, with a Luminara through the streets on the eve of the day before. It’s an amazing and enchanting occasion for taking a walk through the tiny streets of Lucca's center, completely lit up with candles and lamps, a gorgeous sight!
Getting around Lucca
Bicycle is the best mean of transport for getting around Lucca: other than being eco-friendly, it is the ideal way for nimbly moving through the foot traffic around the old city center's tiny streets without the risk of driving into a limited traffic area.
Besides being the city of one hundred churches, Lucca is also the city of bicycles par excellence: wherever you go, you’ll find rental bikes at reasonable prices, from € 3 per hour to 15 € per day, depending on the rental. So do not be afraid to park your car outside the walls or get to Lucca directly by train and then renting a bike to ride around the center, literally around on its 16th century walls!