Vivienne Gunning
15 Apr

While wandering through Lucca, I found myself entranced by its deeply spiritual ambiance. Among the many captivating legends, one stood out—the Holy Face of Lucca, also known as the Volto Santo di Lucca or the "Black Christ of The Lucchiesi." 

This revered symbol of both Lucca and Christianity is said to date back to the 12th century. However, a recent revelation has shaken previous beliefs. According to a fascinating article by Redazione dated June 20, 2020, titled "Extraordinary Discoveries on the Holy Face of Lucca: it is the oldest wooden sculpture in the West," it turns out that the Holy Face is not from the 12th century, but actually originates from the 8th-9th centuries! This discovery solidifies its authenticity. 

This ancient wooden statue of Jesus stands tall at eight feet within the historic San Martino cathedral. Its enigmatic features—a long nose, flowing hair, moustache, beard, and large feet—have intrigued visitors for centuries. 

Among the tales surrounding its creation, one medieval legend stands out. It tells of Nicodemus, a Pharisee deeply moved by Jesus's crucifixion, who assisted Joseph of Arimathea in taking Christ's body to his tomb. Drowned in sadness, Nicodemus began to carve a representation of the crucifixion scene on a dry piece of walnut wood. Falling asleep before completing it, Nicodemus awoke to find the carving miraculously finished, supposedly by angels. This miraculous completion bestowed upon the statue the title of an "acheropite work," suggesting it was not crafted by human hands.

According to one tale, it was hidden in a cave in Palestine for over 700 years to protect it from persecution. Then, in 782, it was placed in an unmanned ship and set adrift across the Mediterranean. Miraculously, it arrived safely, and upon its arrival, it was housed in the cathedral.  St. John I, the Bishop of Lucca, played a crucial role in its preservation. Its fame spread far and wide, drawing pilgrims from across Europe seeking its spiritual significance, elevating Lucca to a prominent stop on the Via Francigena pilgrimage route. 

To date, there are only 5 copies of Volto Santo all over the world, and some of them could also be found in Spain. Recently, scientists utilized the Carbon 14 method to authenticate the statue's age, confirming its arrival in Lucca in AD 782, thus making it the oldest wooden sculpture in the Western world. Currently, the CNR Institute of Applied Physics in Florence is investigating the layers of color present on the sculpture's surface, awaiting further results. These discoveries only deepen the mystery surrounding the statue, raising questions about its authenticity and enduring significance. 

It sparks questions about the boundary between legend and reality—did a wooden statue survive centuries of storms and human threats, guided by divine intervention? 

Must I believe like a child? These questions linger, leaving a lasting impression on my soul.

Please be aware that all images featured on my website and utilized in my blog posts are personally captured by me. Regrettably, due to ongoing restoration efforts at the Cathedral of San Martino, I was unable to personally view the Volto Santo di Lucca during my visit, particularly over the Easter weekend. The photo included in this blog is sourced from:

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