Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Sce Benedicte, Circa 990 AD

Submansio XXXII – Sce Benedicte


Church Our Lady of the Guard, Passo Della Cisa on the Via Francigena

Sce Benedicte was probably called after the abbey of St Benedict in Montelungo. This is the last stop before Sigeric crossed the Apennines, probably by using Passo Della Cisa, known in the Middle Ages as the Mons Bardonis. The Cisa Pass is a 3,414 feet high mountain pass that marks the division between Ligurian and Tuscan Apennines. It is located on the border between Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, near the source of the Magra River. The small church standing at the end of the steep staircase is a recent addition consecrated to Our Lady of the Guard in 1922, and declared a sanctuary on August 29, 1930.



Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Puntremel (Pontremoli), Circa 990 AD

Submansio XXXI – Puntremel

Puntremel is believed to have been first settled around 1000 BC, at about the same time as Sigeric’s passage. The area was known in Roman times as Apua from the Apuani, a Ligurian tribe, that lived there.

The Ligures are mentioned repeatedly by Livy. According to his writings, it appears that the Apuani were the most easterly of the Ligurian tribes, who inhabited the mountains bordering Etruria, and occupied the valleys of the Magra and Serchio rivers. As found by archaeologists, the Ligures were an italo-celtic people mainly occupying the alpine regions of Provence, Côte d’Azur, Piemont, and Liguria.

The Lunigiana region, where Puntremel (Pontremoli) is located, boasts one of the oldest artistic heritages in Italy, characterized by anthropomorphic stone slabs, carved in sandstone by pre-Ligurian populations that used to live in this land between the chalcolithic and the iron age (anytime between 5000 and 2000 B.C. These stone stelae are also referred to as the Stelae-Statues. The statues usually have an uncarved lower part and an upper part carved in a more or less stylized way to represent both feminine and masculine bodies. Their half-moon shaped head has become the symbol of the entire region.


Map of Lunigiana, red dots showing location of Stelae-Statues found since 1867.

Since 1867, date of the first discovery, about 80 samples have been discovered all over the Lunigiana. They have been found more often in small groups than isolated; never on broken ground and always near streams or along large communication valleys or mountain zones close to communication routes. The most complete exhibition of the Stelae-Statues of Lunigiana is found at the Archeological Museums of Pontremoli.


Group of Stelae-Statues of Lunigiana, Museum of Montremoli

Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Aguilla (Aulla), Circa 990 AD

Submansio XXX – Aguilla

saint_caprais_statue02_pBack to Tuscany!  The village Aguilla (ancient Aulla) was founded in the 8th century, by Margrave of Tuscany Adalbert I, House Boniface, to accommodate pilgrims traveling the via Francigena. The Abbey of San Caprasio, constructed around the same period, was named after Saint Caprasius of Lérins, whose body was transferred to Aulla in the 10th century. Saint Caprasius (Caprais in french) died 430, and was a hermit who originally lived in Lérins, in Provence, near Cannes.

Just outside of Aulla, one can admire the fortess of Brunella, built during the Renaissance. The fortress was most likely a powerful military tool due to its strategic position by the Apennine passes. It is today a museum of natural history, the museo di storia naturale della Lunigiana, and a botanical garden featuring plant species typical of the area. 

Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Sce Stephane (Santo Stefano) , Circa 990 AD

Submansio XXIX – Sce Stephane

santostefano_2Santo Stefano is located on the Magra river, about 8 miles northeast of Luni. The town was a marketplace when Sigeric passed through, and had a hospice destined to host pilgrims and travelers on their way to Rome.

The dialect of Santo Stefano di Magra  is considered a lunigianese dialect. The main features of sanotostefanese dialect are mainly: The contraction of the vocal proton “e” and “i” in dumb (v’dere = see), the addition of an “a” instead of the prefix “ra” and “re” (arcuntare tell =), the transformation in many words of “or” in “u” (arcuntare = tell, cursaletu = corset), the transformation of the “ch” prefix “c” (cesa = church), and the emphasis of the consonant “S”. Unfortunately, the Santostefanese dialect is hardly spoken in the young generations nowadays. “Spezzinazione”, however, has taken over, because of close contact with the nearby city of la Spezia in the past 20-30 years. 


Italian: Cosa vuoi? / Andiamo a mangiare fuori questa sera? / Tu sei uno scemo.

Santostefanese: Cost’vo? / Andan a magnar fora st’sera? / Te t’sen no semo

(Translation: What do you want? / Let’s eat out tonight? / You are a fool)

Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Luna (Luni), Circa 990 AD

Submansio XXVIII – Luna

First stop in modern Liguria, a region most popular for its beaches and cuisine. Liguria is a narrow strip of land bordered by France, Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany, which was successively dominated by the Roman, the Byzantines, the Lombards and the Franks. The March of Genoa or Eastern Liguria was created in 961 by Emperor Otto I.

There was a discrepancy among ancient authors as to whether Luni was an Etruscan or a Ligurian city; perhaps due to its geographical location right at the border. Founded by the Romans in 177 BC, Luni (Luna in latin) was a military stronghold for the campaigns against the Ligurian tribes. In 109 BC it was connected to Rome by the Via Aemilia Scauri, rebuilt in the 2nd century AD as the Via Aurelia.

The city flourished when exploitation of white marble quarries began in the 1st century BC in the Apuan Alps, the same now known as Carrara marble, and which was considered equal, if not superior in quality, to the finest Greek marbles. It  was very extensively employed, as may still be seen in the Pantheon, the Pyramid of Caius Cestius, and the buildings of Luna itself.

Carrara Marble Quarry.jpg

Carrara Marble Quary

The period of the final decay of Luna is uncertain. It was taken and plundered by the Normans in 857, but was probably still in existence then since Sigeric refers to it as a stage from Rome to Canterbury.


Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Campmaior (Camaiore), Circa 990 AD

Submansio XXVII – Campmaior

Camaiore has Roman origins, as it was the site of one of the largest Roman encampments near the city of Lucca and an important station along the Via Cassia. The city represented the Twenty-seventh stage during the journey of Sigeric the Serious, and was called Campmaior by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

A little further north, we find Massa, a town mentioned in the Tabula Peutingeriana, a 2nd-4th century AD itinerary, with the name ad Taberna frigida and on the Via Aemilia Scauri road from Pisa to Luni.

The church of San Leonardo al frigido is a 12th century church located in Villagio San Leonardo, near Massa, on the Frigido River. Its original portal is currently being exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. Following are the curatorial notes for this entry:

monumenti di interesse artistico a Masa - Porta del Beduino San Leonardo al Frigido

Portal from the Church of San Leonardo al Frigido, Met Museum

Portal from the Church of San Leonardo al Frigido

Artist: Workshop of Biduinus (Italian, active last quarter 12th century)
Date: ca. 1175
Geography: Made in Tuscany, Italy
Culture: Italian
Medium: Carrara marble
Dimensions: 13 ft. 2 in. × 76 in. × 14 in. (401.3 × 193 × 35.6 cm)
Classification: Installations
Credit Line: The Cloisters Collection, 1962
Accession Number: 62.189

An Antique sarcophagus was reused for the supporting jambs on the sides of the door and was carved to show scenes of the Annunciation and the Visitation on the left and a large figure of Saint Leonard of Noblat, patron saint of prisoners, on the right. On the lintel above is Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem, a scene particularly appropriate for the location of the church, on a main road that pilgrims followed through Italy en route to the Holy Land. While the style of the scene recalls Early Christian tomb reliefs, the same subject was famously carved over the door of the church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem in the Crusader era. The doorway was created in the workshop of Biduinus, a sculptor whose name is known from his signature on several monuments preserved in the Pisa-Lucca area.


Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Luca, Circa 990 AD

Submansio XXVI – Luca

Lucca (Luca in latin) was founded by the Etruscans around 700BC and was then colonized by the Romans around 180 B.C. The rectangular grid of Lucca’s historical city center preserves the Roman street plan, with the Piazza San Michele which occupies the site of the ancient Roman forum, and the elliptical shape of the amphitheater which may still be seen in the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro.

Lucca is also known for a conference in 56 BC, where Julius Caesar, Pompey and Crassus reaffirmed their political alliance known as the 1st Triumvirate.


With the decline of the Western Roman Empire, Lucca and the rest of Italy saw in 476 their first Barbarian King: Flavius Odoacer. Despite its fortress, Lucca was then briefly besieged in 553 by Narses, general of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, then fell under the hands of the Lombards and became one of the most important capitals of the Lombard Kingdom. Thanks to the presence of the Holy Face in the church St. Martin, Lucca became a main stop on the Via Francigena, one of the most important roads of the Middle Ages.


Medieval miniature, Ugo dux (Hugh the Great)

Hugh called the Great, was the Margrave of Tuscany from 969 until his death in 1001. He restored the state apparatus in Tuscany after decades of neglect by margraves whose main interests lay elsewhere. Hugh supported the new Ottonian dynasty and was praised for his justice by the contemporary theologian Peter Damian in his De principis officio (On the Office of a Prince).

The Holy Face of Lucca (also called Volto Santo) is a major relic supposedly carved by Nicodemus, a Pharisee mentioned in the Gospel of John. The cross is said to have arrived in Lucca in 742, so if the story is true Sigeric would have seen it with his own eyes. The present Holy Face itself is an early 13th-century copy of the original ascribed to the circle of Benedetto Antelami. It is said that the original was chipped away beyond repair by relic-seeking pilgrims.


Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Forcri (Porcari), Circa 990 AD

In the itinerary of Archbishop of Canterbury Sigeric the Serious, the city of Porcari represented the 25th stage, and was called by the name of Forcri. The first document regarding Porcari is dated April 30, 780, when 3 Lombard nobles : Gumberto, Ildiberto and Gumbardo Calci left to settle in “Porchari”. 

The town was located on the shores of Lake of Sesto and by the Via Roma, thus becoming an important communication route to Florence, Pisa and Lucca. The lake of Sesto, now dried up, was an important source of livelihood for the first human settlements in the region. Some archaeological excavations have been carried out and discovered signs of successive occupation dating back to the Upper Paleolithic in nearby Fossa Nera, Fornace and Casale Nardi sites. 

Situated in Porcari, on the left bank of the Serchio (in antiquity the Auser), the archaeological site of Fossa Nera shows periods of abandonment and of successive occupation, closely related to the particular environmental conditions along the Serchio, which tended to flood the area. Fossa Nera preserves substantial remains of Roman rural dwellings. The archaeological explorations conducted since 1987 have also identified layers of a Bronze settlement village and a 5th century B.C. Etruscan settlement. More recently, a second Roman settlement from the 2nd century B.C. has also been discovered on the opposite bank of the river.

Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Arne Blanca (Fucecchio)-Aqua Nigra (Ponte Cappiano), Circa 990 AD

In the 990’s the land situated between Fucecchio and Ponte Cappiano seemed to have been a scattered settlement with low population density. The bridge crossing the canal Usciana was run by the Knights Hospitalier of Altopascio who were protecting the ancient Via Francigena. Sigeric the Serious calls the town Aqua Nigra , most likely because of the dark channel water. Additionally the construction in Fucecchio of the abbey of San Salvatore and the Collegiata di San Giovanni Battista, which happened less than 10 years later, must have been a common subject of conversation amongst the locals.

The medieval town of Fucecchio is also mentioned in the Puccini opera Gianni Schicchi, written in 1917, where one of the character, Simone, was once its mayor. The opera tells the story of how Gianni Schicchi, a gifted actor, successfully impersonated the just-deceased Buoso Donati in order to dictate a will that left the deceased’s estate to his family. The story may have been based on a true story from the 13th century, which Dante also knew about since he mentioned Gianni Schicchi in the Inferno, Canto XXX, placing him in the Circle of the Impersonators.


Gianni Schicchi in hell, Gustave Dore illustration

Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Sce Dionisii, Circa 990 AD

Sce Dionisii was known as the pieve of San Genesio. The presence of this church is attested in a document of the Arezzo church from 715, describing a council attended by several bishops from Tuscany and an envoy of Lombard King Liutprant.

Some of the remains of San Genesio (also called Burgo San Genesio) have been excavated by the departments of archaeology of the University of Siena and Pisa. In addition to being located between the river Arno and Elsa, the site is situated at the crossroads of the Roman road via Quinctia and the via Francigena, and indicates a presence since the paleolithic era. The excavations have brought to light numerous Early Middle Ages structures, an ancient necropolis dating from the time the Byzantines and Lombards were fighting for the possession of the peninsula,  and the remains of the ancient church. One particularity of this church is its 12th and 13th century marble inlay techniques; an artistic trend that took place virtually in Tuscany alone. Applied to large surfaces (such as baptismal fonts, pulpits, etc…), the marble was usually inlaid with a colored stone like serpentine which highlighted and brought out patterns and symbolic figures. (Arte Magistri. Intarsio marmoreo in Toscana nel XII-XIII Secolo. Atti del Convegno di Studi, Empoli 30 Ottobre 2015)

Until the 13th century, San Genesio was the home of emperors and popes, and the seat of the Assizes. Slowly, the town lost its prestigious position and was completely assimilated by San Miniato by 1248.

Interesting fact: since 1969, and during the last three weeks of November, San Miniato hosts a white truffle festival. The white truffle, also called king of truffles, is found in the area around the city.