Who would have thought that the 16th-century walls of Lucca held miracles, misdeeds and legends? The city is the backdrop to events that remain shrouded in mystery and for which, even today, we cannot find a rational explanation. Stories of devils and saints, intrigue and profanities paint Lucca in a magical and mysterious light. To look beyond the surface ... all you have to do is open your eyes.
Saint Zita was born in Lucca in 1218. Of humble origins, she worked as a maid at the Palazzo Fatinelli beside the Basilica di S. Frediano. One day in the square, she came upon a cold beggar and, moved by compassion, ran to the palace to get a cloak. But Zita’s masters weren’t to know this because an angel waited for the young girl at the palace’s archway with a new cloak. And thus the “Porta dell’Angelo” was born.
The churches also bear traces of signs and symbols shrouded in mystery. First of all is the labyrinth carved on a column at the entrance to the Cattedrale di S. Martino. The depiction is accompanied by an inscription that, recalling the myth of Theseus and Ariadne, bears an allegorical significance whose meaning remains enigmatic. Perhaps it was a warning to pilgrims as they rested here on their long journey along the Via Francigena. Equally unexplained are the marks on the pillar of the Chiesa S.Pietro Somaldi, enough so as to be called "the Devil’s scratches." Legend has it that the devil left the three scratches in a rage after being refused by St Gemma Galgani, who was praying in the church.
In the early 1500s the rich Bernardini family decided to erect a building in the square. During its construction, it is said that the devil convinced the family to remove a sacred image placed on a part of building not in line with that designed by Nicolao Civitali. When workers began to build the window jamb to the right of the entrance door, the devil decided to leave his mark in memory of the desecration and thus the stone remained hopelessly bent. Numerous interventions by the workers couldn’t fix it. The stone continued to sag. Even today, passing in front of the building, you’ll notice the strange position of the jamb. On nights when the moon is full, you can almost hear his fiery carriage bearing Lucida Mansi once around the walls before diving into the pond at the Orto Botanico. Legend has it that on those nights, you can hear the youth’s cries of pain.
Lucida was a Lucca noblewoman who lived in the 1600s and was known for her amorous adventures and the tragic end that was reserved for her lovers. However, it’s her great vanity that has become legendary. It’s said she sold her soul to the devil in exchange for a beauty that never faded. One evening, in the guise of a handsome young man, the devil seduced her into his fiery cart and after having gone once around the walls, entered the waters of the pond at the Orto Botanico to return to hell. He had come to collect his due.