The Big One

On September 7, 1920, at 7:55 a.m. Garfagnana was shaken by a massive earthquake whose epicentre was located at Villa Collemandina. Its magnitude was 6.6 on the Richter scale and it originated at 4 kilometres below the surface.

The I920 earthquake was clearly not the only major earthquake this region has suffered. Our area is classified as seismic zone 2, which means that there is a medium to high possibility of earthquakes. There were major earth tremors in I448 and I767 with many dead. In I920 the number of dead was I7I with 650 injured. This is actually a relatively low number of victims and is due to the fact that the previous day there was a violent shock which led many people to sleep outside. Moreover, most of the men in this once mainly agricultural area were already out in the fields leaving the women and children at home. Here are photos of that event:

I was reminded of these unsettling facts since we’ve already experienced two slight earth tremors in the past month, graded around three plus on the Richter scale.

Last week I found myself passing near Villa Collemandina and decided to give the place a closer look. I’d visited it once before when we sang in the church and was amazed then at how well it had withstood the earthquake. However, here are archive pictures of the church showing the damage it sustained in I920.

Here is the church as I saw it last week. It doesn’t seem as if an earthquake had ever hit it. Notice, however, that the vaulting was not replaced, exposing the original wooden beams above it.

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The church, which is dedicated to Saint Sisto, has some wonderful features including a fine altar painting and a marble tabernacle.

Saint Rocco’s dog, who brought the saint stinking from a plague sore his breakfast bun when humans refused to approach him, is sweetly depicted.

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The terrace in front of the church gives out onto a spectacularly extensive view of the Apuan mountains.

Don’t miss this magnificent cloister just to the left of the church (as I did the first time I was here). The column capitals are superb and form a backcloth to many a Garfagnana wedding picture. Again it’s a miracle that this wonderful piece of Romanesque architecture has survived.

The town itself was rebuilt with houses of not more than two stories and with wide streets. It looks very much like an I920’s model estate village which, of course, it is.

On one of the houses is this plaque commemorating the devastating event of I920 and praising the town’s subsequent rebuilding with generous funds from its emigrnts to the US:


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If San Francisco is due for the “big one” then pessimists here also feel that “big one” will hit us as it normally does every hundred years.

Less than seven years to go then? Hope not…..

2 thoughts on “The Big One

  1. Pingback: A Suicide and a Miracle at Corfino | From London to Longoio (and Lucca and Beyond) Part Two

  2. Pingback: What Me Worry? | From London to Longoio (and Lucca and Beyond) Part Two

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