Sssh I’m in the Basilica of St Frediano sheltering from the sun but not the tourists. Travel is, of course, a wonderful experience, to see such marvels of the world as this church. There was a time when the only tourists were my medieval pilgrim predecessors and it was for those pilgrims that such churches were built. The modern tourists must pay a few Euros admission charge towards the upkeep and maintenance of the building. This charge is less than half the cost of a side salad in any local restaurant but is far better value. However I have free admission to all the churches of Italy (and Canterbury) on production of my pilgrim credential which is stamped at the same time. But the church does not lose out because I light a candle and say a prayer for our safe passage along the Via Francigena and the ongoing provision of gelato.
Paul and I do our own thing on rest days. It would not be a rest for him to be dragged around every church and be made to eat gelato which he dislikes. So today I have seen the three big ones in Lucca: the Cathedral of St Martin where I also climbed the bell tower for a spectacular view of the town, the 8th century St Michael church and the Basilica. The Cathedral is the bishop’s church and the Basilica is the Pope’s church.
I was very lucky to bump into the old executioner’s house by the wall. It has been restored and now houses an excellent exhibition about the Via Francigena. It tells the story of the pilgrimage and explores the rich cultural history since the early days of Christianity. I recognised so much of what was shown but the explanations were enlightening and I realised how very little I know about the history and culture of this route and how much more I need to know. I wish my guidebook did more than just scratch the surface of all the things we see.
Who can resist a botanical garden when they see one? The botanical garden in Lucca has trees like the Sequoia which were planted in 1820. It is the only place inside the city walls where you can completely escape tourists because there aren’t any. For the price of a side salad in a cheap cafe you can not only experience this little piece of paradise but contribute towards the huge cost of maintaining it.
Italy is just getting better and better. Every twist and turn is a new lesson in the significance and rich history of this Via Francigena.
St Michael church
Church of St Michael
View from the bell tower, St Martin Cathedral
The Guinigi tower
The pond in The Botanical garden
Lunch with a can of Castrol GTX
Basilica of St Frediano
Insatiable demand for gelato
On top of the Guinigi Tower
view of Cathedral from Guinigi Tower