Bagni di Lucca’s parish church is situated a little distance away from the main part of the town on the road leading to the Controneria (which includes our village of Longoio). San Pietro is, in fact, in a part of Bagni called Corsena which was the original nucleus of the town and which has several old stone houses characteristic of the mountain villages. Indeed, Bagni di Lucca once used to be called Bagni di Corsena.
Because of its position well outside Bagni’s modern-day centre the church is somewhat inconveniently placed for locals and there is a smaller, much more recent, church to one side of the public gardens which is used for some services and for the recital of the Rosary. It’s adjoining this smaller church that the parish halls are situated where activities ranging from Judo to ballroom dancing to our own “English” choir rehearsals are held. It was here that we performed Bagni di Lucca’s first festival of Nine Lessons and Carols after many years for Christmas 2012. The original Corsena church, however, still remains Bagni di Lucca’s main centre for important services, ceremonies, christenings, weddings and funerals. Moreover, in the summer the area’s pallavolo (volleyball) competition is held in the square in front which is filled for the occasion with excited youth teams and well-frequented open-air dining tables and food stalls.
Although very much restored, San Pietro di Corsena still has the feel of an ancient Romanesque building dating back to the eleventh century. On its exterior walls one can find traces of the original blind arcades and a now-filled in pilgrims’ portico to the right of the entrance. The cement rose window is an unfortunate intrusion dating from the (much-needed) restoration of 1902-6. It replaces a former double lancet window and is of no earthly use at all since on its interior side it is completely blocked by the organ.
The bell tower dates from the seventeenth century. I’ve never been to the top of it but I guess the view over Bagni di Lucca must be quite splendid, though not as amazing as the view from the bell-tower at Pieve di Controni which I described at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/11/17/the-bells-the-bells/
The interior has a nave and two aisles. The stone work, particularly those of the columns, looks rather unworn and has none of the patina of age one would expect from a building this old. Perhaps that 1902 restoration was, again, too thorough here.
There are a number of monuments and paintings. This one commemorates the visit of Italy’s first queen (wife of Victor Emmanuel II) to pray here. There is a rather worn marble slab in the centre floor celebrating a commander and benefactor of the church, Martino Della Lena, who died in 1609. The painting of the Madonna of the Rosary has a great devotional appeal to Catholics visiting the church, who invariably genuflect before it. A monument remembers the miraculous preservation of Bagni di Lucca from destruction by allied bombing in 1944 when Gerry decided to retreat to Castelnuovo di Garfagnana (which bore the brunt of the bombing instead – see my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/04/09/vecchio-castel-nuovo-and-the-fury-of-war/ ) For me the most interesting thing about the church is the structure that is attached to it on the left side and usually always kept closed: the oratory of the Company of the Holy Virgin of Succour. Its well-preserved stalls for members of the company and fine gilded altar date back to the seventeenth century and are superb examples of the wood-worker’s skill.
The oratory also contains an organ which is unfortunately all in pieces. Indeed, the organ in the main church is also unplayable, its sound being largely reduced to a few grunts reminiscent of a superannuated steam pump. This is a great pity as, if restored, the organ could contribute substantially to musical events held there, the principal ones of which are the Christmas concerts given by the local choirs.
Here is a photo of our choir when it participated in San Pietro di Corsena’s Christmas concert in December 2012 under the expert hand of our director, Paula Chesterman: Incidentally where does the title of this post come in? It was in this very church that Giacomo Puccini’s first extended piece of vocal music was performed. The year was 1874 and the piece was “Vexilla Regis”. Puccini composed the hymn commissioned by Adelson Betti (the Mayor of Bagni is a direct descendant) organist and choirmaster in Bagni di Lucca where Puccini came to play in the casino’s dance casino. The fee paid to the young penniless composer was ten lire (about twenty quid in today’s money) and a cake.
Here is a recording of it taken from a performance in Lucca’s San Giovanni.
So Bagni di Lucca features at the very beginning of Puccini’s compositional career and at the very end too! (See my post at:https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/01/23/turandots-carillon/ )
PS Thank you to those who have voted for longoio.wordpress.com/ in the Italy Magazine blog awards. Voting is open until 8th February, so if you have the time click here to vote. Thanks again!