San Paolino, Patron Saint of Lucca

Lucca has two major annual religious festivals: the first is the famous Luminara and procession Della Santa Croce which takes place in September and the other is on July 12th and celebrates San Paolino, Lucca’s patron saint.

Who was San Paolino? And why did he become Lucca’s protector? Paolino of Lucca (not to be confused with the more famous Paolino of Nola) was, according to tradition, Lucca’s first bishop.

There are no established facts about Paolino’s life or whether he even existed – his name does not appear in any mediaeval source.

Legend says that he was a follower of Saint Peter in Antioch from whence he was sent to Lucca to convert the pagans there. Paolino (Paulinus in English) suffered martyrdom under Nero.

Why is Paolino revered as a saint? In 1261, according to a biography of Saint Torpete (or Torpes) written in the 6th century, holy relics were found when St George’s church in Lucca was demolished to make way for the second of Lucca’s three wall-building projects. In the biography mention is made of a hermit called Antonius who withdrew to the Monte Pisano and dedicated himself to baptizing others and to collecting holy relics among which were those of Paolino. The church of San Paolino in Lucca then became the resting place of these relics.

San Paolino is noted for a miracle he is reputed to have performed and which is enacted every year on one of Lucca’s city wall bulwarks: on 12th July 1662 a cannon, which was to have fired in celebration of the saint, instead fired on a crowd of pilgrims entering into the city through San Donato gate. Although the canon ball hit several of them none were seriously injured.

We missed the firing of the cannon to commemorate the miracle but were in time for the solemn Eucharistic high mass celebrated by the bishop of Lucca. Members of various Vicarie (in traditional costume) and drummers were present outside the large church.

Inside the church the relics of San Paolino were under heavy security.

Among the various banners from the comunes making up Lucca province was one from Bagni di Lucca which played a leading part in the Pauline celebrations this year – the Mayor of Bagni was, in fact, required to supply and present one of two presents to the saint: the holy oil with the ever-burning flame as an offering to Lucca’s mysterious, but adored patron saint. The mayor of Lucca presented the other present: the votive cero (or large candle).

Incidentally, the church of San Paolino is also the church where Lucca’s most famous son, Giacomo Puccini, started his career as organist and for which place he composed a motet for the Saint’s day in 1877 and, furthermore, where his first masterpiece, the Messa a Quattro Voci, was premiered to considerable acclaim in 1880.

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Rumour also has it that Puccini, having taken up smoking in earnest while organist there, flogged some stolen pipes from the organ to support his new habit – but I think this is a typical slight by one of his envious contemporaries…


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