The Holy Face of Lucca

For centuries, pilgrims from all over the world came to the Tuscan town of Lucca to pray before one of Christendom’s most treasured relics—an eight-foot-tall (247 centimeters) wooden crucifix known as the Volto Santo di Lucca.  Like the Shroud of Turin, the Volto Santo is regarded as one of the true icons of Christ.  By the late Middle Ages, it was well known throughout Europe.  “By the face of Lucca” was an oath sworn by William II of England, and it is even mentioned in Dante’s Inferno.

According to legend, the Holy Face was sculpted by Nicodemus who, in the Bible, helped to prepare and place the body of Christ in the tomb.  Nicodemus fell asleep before he had finished the face.  When he awoke, he found that it had been completed by an angel.  In the 8th century, an Italian bishop, guided by a dream, discovered it in a cave on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  The crucifix was put on a ship with no sails or crew and miraculously set sail for Italy.  It first came to the port of Luni in eastern Liguria. The attempts of the inhabitants to take possession of the boat were useless.  Following a visit by an angel in a dream, the bishop of Lucca went to the port, and the boat revealed to him its precious cargo.  A dispute arose between Luni and Lucca over the right to receive such a gift.  The bishop gave Luni an ampoule with the blood of Christ, and the Holy Face thus went to Lucca.

Over time, many art historians came to believe that the current crucifix in the San Martino cathedral in Lucca was a 12th century copy of the lost or destroyed 8th century original.  As part of the commemoration of the 950th anniversary of its foundation, the cathedral recently authorized a scientific study of the crucifix to determine its age.  The tests were carried out with the Carbon 14 method at the Florence headquarters of the National Institute of Nuclear Physics.  This method is best known for dating material of organic origin, such as wood and fabrics.  Samples were taken from the crucifix—withdrawals of a few milligrams of material in several places—from the wood and also from a stratum of canvas on the sculpture. Canvas gives a more accurate dating because wood could have ben cut years before it was carved.

The results indicate that the crucifix dates between 770 and 880 AD.  Therefore, this remarkably preserved sculpture of Christ with downcast eyes and wearing a colobium, an ankle-length tunic, is now the oldest surviving wooden carving in Europe and the West.  Wood is far more perishable than bronze or marble; wooden statues of around 1,000 years of age are very rare indeed.

In Lucca, celebrations will continue, including the annual candlelit procession, the Luminara, which is devoted to the Holy Face on September 13.  The procession, which no longer includes the sculpture as in the past, proceeds to the cathedral from the Basilica of San Frediano, where a fresco cycle commemorates the legend of Nicodemus sculpting the image.  The Holy Face is the symbol of the city of Lucca today and the pride of a city-state that remained an independent republic for seven centuries.

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Musica dell’Olocausto

Era il 1988, quando Francesco Lotoro, pianista e compositore di Barletta in Puglia, venne a conoscenza della musica composta nei campi di sterminio. Sentì che questa musica doveva essere ascoltata e si imbarcò in un progetto molto ambizioso per raccogliere tutto quello che potesse trovare. Più di 30 anni dopo è riuscito a costruire una cittadella, conosciuta formalmente come l’Istituto di Letteratura Musicale Concentrazionaria, per ospitare e suonare le oltre 8000 opere che ha raccolto e catalogato.

Lotoro ha viaggiato in tutto il mondo e ha trovato sinfonie, opere, canzoni popolari e molti altri generi. Durante una visita a Praga nel 1990, scoprì un’opera fiabesca in cinque atti, “Three Hairs of the Wise Old Man”, di Rudolf Karel, compositore ceco. Karel scrisse l’opera con carbone medicinale (per curare la dissenteria) su fogli di carta igienica, che furono successivamente messi di nascosto in sacchi per il bucato fuori dal campo. Karel morì a Terezin Theresienstadt, a nord di Praga, un campo che i nazisti avevano istituito come comunità modello per cercare di ingannare il mondo, attraverso film di propaganda, che mostravano come gli ebrei venissero trattati umanamente.

Altri prigionieri scrivevano la loro musica su involucri di cibo, sacchi di patate, carta da giornale o qualunque cosa potessero trovare. Era una testimonianza della loro intraprendenza, ma anche del loro bisogno di musica per calmare l’anima, scappare, ricordare le loro vite precedenti e commentare le proprie esperienze. Fare parte di un’orchestra in un campo di sterminio permise di salvare alcune vite, anche se l’esperienza era per lo più umiliante. I musicisti erano costretti a suonare la “musica di comando”, mentre i prigionieri venivano fatti marciare ai lavori forzati ed erano anche costretti a suonare concerti per gli ufficiali delle SS e per i “dignitari” in visita. Solo quando i prigionieri suonavano musica di propria iniziativa provavano consolazione, sostegno e speranza.

Altri musicisti e storici si sono uniti alla passione di Lotoro per preservare la storia musicale dell’Olocausto. Alcuni sono rappresentazioni teatrali, mentre altri invece sono alla ricerca di musica vietata dai nazisti, designata come “degenerata”, in gran parte composta da ebrei. In espansione anche la ricerca di strumenti musicali, libri di musica e spartiti originali o stampati rubati dai nazisti.

Ma la visione di Lotoro è forse la più ampia. Ha anche organizzato e registrato opere composte nei campi. In alcuni casi, ha composto musica per finire lavori incompleti. Inoltre la sua collezione si è ampliata per includere opere di prigionieri politici, religiosi in molti paesi e di musicisti di qualsiasi estrazione nazionale, sociale o religiosa.

L’Istituto di Letteratura Musicale Concentrazionaria includerà un museo, una biblioteca e un teatro per un costo di circa 40 milioni di euro. La città di Barletta ha donato un sito di due acri, una ex-distilleria di brandy abbandonata e sta anche fornendo ulteriori 2,4 milioni di euro per la costruzione di un hotel con 30 camere nelle vicinanze per studenti, studiosi e altri per studiare la musica. Finora il governo italiano ha fornito fondi per 4,45 milioni di euro e Lotoro spera di ricevere fino a 32 milioni di euro in più. Sta anche raccogliendo fondi attraverso una campagna internazionale di raccolta fondi.

Ad aiutarlo in questo progetto è sua moglie Grazia. Entrambi cresciuti cattolici, si sono convertiti al giudaismo nel 2004. In seguito Francesco ha scoperto che il nonno di suo nonno era ebreo e si era convertito al cristianesimo perché era difficile essere ebreo a quel tempo a Barletta. Per il modesto musicista che ha vissuto in questa piccola città adriatica per tutta la vita, il completamento della cittadella sarà il sogno di una vita: lasciare un’eredità musicale.

Posted in Abitudini, Arte, Comunità ebrea, Foto, Italia, Italiano, La Gente, Musica, Politica, Puglia, Storia | 2 Comments

Music from the Holocaust

It was 1988 when Francesco Lotoro, a pianist and composer from Barletta in Puglia, first heard about the music composed in the death camps.  He felt that the music should be heard, and he embarked on a very ambitious project to collect as much as he could find.  More than 30 years later, he is building a citadel, which is known formally as the Istituto di Letteratura Musicale Concentrazionaria—to house and play the more than 8,000 works he has collected and catalogued.

Lotoro has been all over the world and has found symphonies, operas, folk songs, and many other genres.  On a visit to Prague in 1990, he discovered a five-act fairy tale opera, “Three Hairs of the Wise Old Man,” by Rudolf Karel, a Czech composer.  Karel wrote the opera with medicinal charcoal (to treat dysentery) on sheets of toilet paper, which were later smuggled out of the camp in laundry sacks.  Karel died at Terezin Theresienstadt just north of Prague, a camp the Nazis had set up as a model community to try to trick the world, through propaganda films, that they were treating the Jews humanely.

Other prisoners wrote their music on food wrappers, potato sacks, newsprint or whatever they could find.  It was a testament to their resourcefulness, but also to their need for music to soothe the soul, to escape, to remember their former lives, and to comment on their experiences.  Being in an orchestra in a concentration camp saved some lives, but the experience was often humiliating.  Musicians were forced to play “command music” as prisoners were marched off to forced labor, and they also were forced to play concerts for SS officers and visiting “dignitaries.”  But when the prisoners played music on their own initiative, it gave them consolation and hope.

Other musicians and historians have joined in Lotoro’s passion to preserve the musical history of the Holocaust.  Some are staging performances, while others are searching for music banned by the Nazis as “degenerate,” much of which was composed by Jews.  Also expanding is the search for musical instruments, books about music, and original or printed scores stolen by the Nazis.

But Lotoro’s vision is perhaps the broadest.  He has also arranged and recorded works composed in the camps.  In some cases, he is writing music to finish incomplete works.  Even his collection has expanded to include works from political and religious prisoners in many countries and from musicians of any national, social or religious background.

Lotoro’s citadel – Istituto di Letteratura Musicale Concentrazionaria — will include a museum, a library and a theater at a cost of about $45 million.  The city of Barletta donated a two-acre site of an abandoned brandy distillery and is also providing an additional $2.7 million for the construction of a 30-room hotel nearby for students, scholars and others to study the music.  The Italian government has provided $5 million in funds so far, and Lotoro is hopeful of receiving up to $36 million more.  He is also raising money through an international fund-raising campaign.

Helping him on this project is his wife Grazia.  Raised Catholic, they converted to Judaism in 2004.  Then Francesco discovered that his grandfather’s grandfather was Jewish and had converted to Christianity because it was difficult to be a Jew at that time in Barletta.  For this modest musician who has lived in this small Adriatic town all his life, the completion of the citadel will be a lifetime dream to leave a musical legacy.

Posted in Abitudini, Arte, Comunità ebrea, English, Foto, Italia, Musica, Puglia, Storia | 1 Comment