The city of Lucca, a labyrinth of mysteries

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The Labyrinth and the St. Martin’s Cathedral 

 

The original core of the St. Martin’s Cathedral was commissioned by the bishop San Frediano in the 6th century. It was probably a primitive complex of numerous grouped churches. However, the modern Cathedral was completely reconstructed since 1060 and consecrated ten years later. The subsequent reworks protracted the end of the works until 1390.

 

The St. Martin’s Cathedral 

The architectural style is clearly Tuscan-Romanesque, with a strong influence by the Pisa-Romanesque.

 

Lucca

 

The facade has a big portico composed by three arcades, of which the left one is shorted due to the presence of a preexisting bell tower with a quadrangular base. This peculiarity provides a geometric asymmetry to the facade, a rather rare characteristic for the period of construction. In fact, not harmonic elements were considered as an evil construction, in opposition to the harmony generally attributed to the work of God. For these reasons, the St. Martin’s Cathedral represents an exception to this rule.

 

 

In the lunette of the right gate there is a bas relief representing the Martyrdom of Saint Regolo, with centrally the Ascension, and on the left it is located the Deposition by Nicola Pisano. 

 

 

 Martyrdom of Saint Regolo, Guido Bigarelli

 

Lateral vision of the bas relief representing the Ascension of Christ by Guido Bigarelli

 

 Detail of the bas reliefs on the facade 

 

 Porticos. In the lunette on the left the “Deposition” by Nicola Pisano

 

The portico was often occupied by the money chargers frequenting by pilgrims of the Via Francigena, the ancient way that led to Jerusalem.

For this reason, there was an inscription inviting to be honest and to avoid deceiving wayfarers.

 

 

In the semicolumn on the left of the colonnade there is a particular engraving, subject of numerous studies. It is the famous Labyrinth of Lucca.

 

Lucca

 

The labyrinth

The engraving seems to be located in a single block of stone and represents a circular labyrinth with a single exit. Laterally it is possible to read the sentence:

Hic quem creticus edit dedalis est laberint hus deduonulluss vader e quivit qui fuit intus ni theseus gratis adriane stamine iutus

 The translation is:

“This is the labyrinth constructed by Daedalus of Crete, from which nobody who entered could exit, with the exception of Theseus thanks to the Ariadne’s thread”. 

The inscription is linked to the origin of the symbol.

The term “labyrinth” certainly derives from the Greek labýrinthos (λαβύρινθος), that at the same time derived from Labrys, that indicated a particular axe with a double blade. This weapon symbolized the government of the King of Crete, Minos, thus in ancient times the “labyrinth” was considered the majestic palace of Knossos. This building was famous for its countless rooms and for its complex architecture: from this descends the modern meaning of the term.

 

The legend 

The legend tells that the Minotaur, a terrifying creature with the head and tail of a bull and the body of a man, was closed in the Crete Labyrinth. To appease its anger, the city of Athens, beaten by Minos, was obliged to send, every nine years, seven girls and seven boys. The prince of the Ionian city, Theseus, offered to defeat the monster and put an end to that slaughter of human lives. When he had arrived in Crete the King Minos’ daughter, Ariadne, fell in love and revealed to Theseus a stratagem to exit the labyrinth. She gave him a ball of thread that, gradually unrolled, could allow him to find his way out of the Labyrinth. With the help of a poisoned sword, Theseus defeated the Minotaur and then could go home.

Since the antiquity, the symbol of the labyrinth, always represented in a unicursal way, was used as a decoration.

 

The symbolism of the Lucca Labyrinth 

The specimen of the Lucca Labyrinth is inserted in this context. Some scholars associated this Labyrinth with the similar one located in the floor of the Chartres Cathedral, hypothesizing a possible Templar origin.

It is a mystery why this symbol was positioned in the entrance portico of a Christian cathedral.

Is it possible, as supposed by some scholars, that it indicate an esoteric path of arcane initiation for people who are going to enter the Lucca Cathedral? 

Alternatively, it may be reinterpreted in a Christian perspective, symbolizing the path that man has to fulfil towards God and himself. According to this interpretation, it would be a knowledge and conversion path: the labyrinth is a synonym of the life itself. Full of various wrong ways, it may lead to the perdition of the soul. There is only a right way to salvation: Jesus Christ. Not by chance, the iconography of Christ affirming “I am the way and the truth and the life” is at the centre of many Christian representations of the labyrinth.

 

Samuele Corrente Naso

(Translation by Daniela Campus)

 

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