Yet another Departure

The Pieve di Controni is traditionally the Controneria’s main religious hub.

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I have already mentioned aspects of it in previous posts, most notably at:

where I discuss an important historical person who connects it to the Royal Eltham Palace in south-east London, UK

and at

where we climb to the top of the bell tower to savour the best view that the Controneria can offer.

The term “Pieve” is given to the main parish church in an area and, until quite recently, it was the only place where baptisms could take place. This meant that a Pieve had to be built within easy reach of all the villages it serviced in the area, and not necessarily placed in one. The Pieve at Sala on the opposite side of the Lima valley, for example, is built in the middle of nowhere in a position equidistant from surrounding villages.

In the case of the Pieve di Controni a village has since risen around it but remains very small in size and in no way reflects the importance of the church.

The Pieve is dedicated to St. John the Baptist. It is built on the site of the ancient parish church of Santo Stefano di Bargi, mentioned in a parchment dated 884, in the Archbishop of Lucca’s archives and is one of the twenty-eight churches founded by San Frediano (Fridianus), the 6th century Irish saint and missionary and son of King Ultach of Ulster, who converted the Luccan heathens to Christianity and founded a monastery, now the glorious basilica of San Frediano in Lucca which encloses his remains. .


In the fourteenth century the Pieve di Controni was hit by a landslide which blocked its entrance. It was considered impossible to remove the rubble fallen from the mountain behind so the orientation of the church was reversed: the facade now became the apse with its altar and the former apse (which may well have been round but which was straightened out for its new role) became the present façade with its main entrance.

It is still possible to see the beautiful Pisan-style lozenge shapes and decorations of the old facade at  the back of the church where a somewhat roughly constructed rounded apse contrasts unfavourably with the exquisite stonework to which it is attached.


The bell tower was erected at the end of the last century and has the largest bells of the entire municipality. See the post at for my visit to the top of it after its recent restoration.

The Pieve’s interior has a nave and two aisles and is strikingly spacious. Of all the churches in the Val di Lima it, for me, takes the prize for elegance of proportion and grandeur of design. Originally, as with most Romanesque buildings, the nave’s ceiling consisted of cross timber trusses. In the 1840’s the great Luccan architect, Giuseppe Pardini (architect of Bagni di Lucca’s Casino among many other buildings) was involved in the restoration of several churches in this area including the Pieve. He closed the narrow windows and opened out circular ones giving much more light. He also covered over the old timber trusses with quadripartite vaults which are quite elegant. Both innovations, however, don’t reflect the original atmosphere of the interior which would have been dark, mysterious and womb-like, rather like an Egyptian temple. (To recapture this previous atmosphere and see a typical old truss roof go further along the Controneria road to the church of San Cassiano).

Recently, a builder friend of mine who had been in charge of some roof repair on the Pieve managed to get in the space between Pardini’s vaulting and the roof and told me that the old timber trusses were still beautifully painted with mediaeval designs. How tempting it is to uncover them now!

The Pieve is filled with wonderful objects: there is a beautiful baptismal font to the left just inside the church.

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There is a delightful altar to the Virgin Mary with an alcove enclosing an example of the original clothed doll-statues which were common before the papal authorities instituted those monotonous plaster statues so prevalent in Roman Catholic churches today.

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These lovely doll-statues, which have been mostly hidden away in the local churches to make way for the more liturgically acceptable painted-plaster ones, remind me very much of the doll-statues of Hinduism, in particular those of Radha and Sita. As occurs in Hindu temples today, these statues would have been suitably dressed in fine clothes and perfumed with incense before being taken into procession and worshipped by devotees. The Hindu act of Arathi is so similar to the swaying of the incense censers it is hard not to imagine that Catholicism is so much closer in spirit to Hinduism that in it to Protestantism.

There are other fine altars in the Pieve, including one dedicated to Saint Anthony, again with the original portraiture of the saint before it was formalised by the church’s later nineteenth century edicts.

01312014 013At the end of the right aisle there is an exquisite altar enclosing a smaller version of that icon embodying the highest Luccan spirit: “il sacro volto”.

01312014 014The elegant organ was built in 1773-1774 by Michelangelo Crudeli and, alas, is yet another example of an instrument left to rack and ruin through neglect and lack of funds.

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On the positive side there is a lovely Crudeli organ at San Donato Lucca beautifully restored by the firm of Ghilardi. Let’s hope that this fine organ restorer gets his hands on the Pieve’s example soon. I’d love to hear it and reflect on those Miltonic lines  from “Il Pensieroso”:

There let the pealing Organ blow,
To the full voic’d Quire below,
In Service high, and Anthems cleer,
As may with sweetnes, through mine ear,
Dissolve me into extasies,
And bring all Heav’n before mine eyes

The main reason, however, why I was in the Pieve di Controni yesterday was for the sad reason of Paolo Lucchesi’s funeral Mass.

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Paolo Lucchesi was the uncle of very much missed Fabio Lucchesi and shared the house occupied by Fabio. (For more on Fabio see my post at

Paolo (or “Zio Paolino” as he was more familiarly known as – although he himself did not much like this appellation) continued to live in the same house just below Longoio after Fabio’s death. In recent years Paolo’s physical and mental health had considerably deteriorated and he died peacefully at Lucca’s main hospital last weekend. We last visited Paolo just a few weeks ago while we were on a walk. He was marvellously cared for by a couple who had been particular friends of Fabio. It is they who will now live at “La Lama”. Of the original household there is only one rather old dog to remind one of the lovely days when we would come to la Lama, dine with Fabio and listen to his favourite Cajun music records.

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We haven’t been living here ten years yet it seems so many dear and well-known people have left us. That is the price one has to pay when living in a small community where so many people meet and know each other.


4 thoughts on “Yet another Departure

  1. Pingback: The New Glory of a Heavenly Apse | From London to Longoio (and Lucca and Beyond) Part Two

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