In January 2013 an earthquake hit our part of the world. Although we all felt its impact, no one was hurt and damage to property was slight except in one case: that of the “Chiesa Del Poggio” (church on the hill) at Guzzano, the next but one village to Longoio.
A group, which included Don Franco the local parish priest, examined the building and found that large chunks of the roof, including vaulting and beams, had fallen down, spreading white dust and debris in the interior, now open to the skies. The church is dedicated to the Madonna of the snowfall and Don Vitali said that, indeed, it seemed as if snow had fallen into the church.
The Madonna of the snowfall celebrates an event which occurred in Rome around 400 AD when on August 4th snow fell, defining precisely the contours of the ground plan of what would become the world’s greatest Marian basilica, Santa Maria Maggiore.
Returning to Guzzano’s own Madonna Della Neve: what was to be done about the church? Used but once a year, far too big for the present population, on top of a hill in the middle of a wood, approachable only by a twenty minute walk (unless one had a 4 X 4 car) and with no parking, there appeared to be no hope for the building. It seemed surplus to requirements and destined to progressive decay like (just to pick one local example) San Rocco, at the entrance road to Vetteglia.
Any money available would, anyway, be allocated for more urgent tasks like making safe the roads, shoring embankments against further landslides (Italy is Europe’s most at-risk country from land movements with eighty per cent of its surface vulnerable) and strengthening river levees.
There was one person, however, Claudio Gemignani, from Gombereto (already very active in that village and chief coordinator of many projects there including the restoration of its own chapel and the organization of its mediaeval Festa) who decided that Guzzano’s church on the hill could, in fact, be reinstated. He managed to find money: five thousand from Lucca’s curia, five thousand from the Luccans’ abroad association in the USA and five thousand from others sources, making a total of fifteen thousand euros.
In eighteen months the results showed to perfection and a Mass was held there yesterday, with a large congregation present, on the feast of the Madonna.
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever and the church certainly has its own special beauty features.
First, its position in the centre of a thick wood and at the top of a hill which (for me) evokes passages from Malory’s Arthurian romances.
Second, its size: there are aisleless bays separated by five beautiful arches, the one nearest the altar flanked by gorgeous classical Tuscan columns in Pietra Serena – part of the ceiling here still retains its mediaeval lozenge-painted beams, formerly covered by later vaulting which collapsed after the earthquake, and have now been revealed after hundreds of years.
Third, the magnificent main altar dating from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with very attractive painted panels.
An ecclesiastical building isn’t there just for devotees – it’s there for the community and (even for unbelievers) represents cohesiveness and unity in that community. A neglected church is truly a sorry sight.
There will be sceptics who think that money should not be wasted on things which they feel are either redundant or under-used. True, the church is rarely used but I feel that it could be now used for such activities as social evenings, concerts, recitals, readings as many other churches in the area are. There might even be space for a Guzzano festival (although something will have to be done about access to the building by less able people).
A stitch in time saves nine. By his persistent, insistent and totally dedicated action, Claudio Gemignani has shown that that stitch can also save ninety and even more in the future. On all accounts he is to be praised and so is his team of happy volunteers who have preserved this evocative building for future generations to enjoy and cherish. Here is Claudio helping a child extract the winning lottery tickets:
PS The next plan of the project is to complete more thoroughly the roof restoration. If you love this area then do contact Claudio on his Guzzano church facebook page at
if you’d like to help.