Music for Saint Michael

The eleventh “Concert for St. Michael”, organized by the Polifonica Lucchese and the AML( Lucchese Music Association), will be held Saturday, September 24 at 5:30 pm (free entry) in Lucca’s Church of St. Michele in Foro. The performers are the long-established Polifonica choir directed by Egisto Matteucci and the Boccherini Chamber Orchestra. The four soloists are soprano Mirella Di Vita, contralto Sara Bacchelli, tenor Marco Mustaro and bass Francesco Facini.

The program includes sacred music composed by Boccherini and Mozart for evening prayer, and formed by some of the psalms and the canticles of the Magnificat, divided, almost like an opera, in arias, ensembles and choral pieces, in an alternation of different styles and structures.

Luigi Boccherini’s four-part Domine ad adiuvandum G534 and Dixit Dominus G533 for four voices and orchestra has words taken from two psalms from the ‘vespers for th ‘Volto Santo’. Mozart’s Vesperae solennes de confessore, K. 339 was composed when serving the prince archbishop of Salzburg. Among the pieces that make up this work, is the exquisite Laudate Dominum, for soprano and chorus,

and a bright Magnificat, closing the concert.

This is definitely an occasion not to be missed, both for the high quality of the music and performers, and for its magnificent setting in one of Lucca’s finest churches.

To see my posts on some of the previous years I’ve attended the music for Saint Michael go to:


Of course, quite apart from the music being performed, it’s well worth arriving earlier to take a look at the church itself.

San Michele is built in the centre of the city’s ancient Roman forum (hence its full name) and its original construction dates from the eighth century. Attached to it were a hospice and a monastery. Pope Alexander II ordered the church’s reconstruction around 1070 which continued until the thirteenth century.

San Michele in Foro is one of the supreme examples of Luccan Romanesque architecture with its intarsioed marble decorations and one of the finest facades anywhere with a superimposed sequence of four orders of arcades crowned by a statue of Saint Michael defeating the dragon and giving it a high vertical slant which is almost gothic. In fact, the church itself was supposed to have been transformed into the gothic style with a raised nave – this idea never took place, however.


San Michele is built in a latin cross plan and it’s said that there an emerald embedded in St Michael’s statue which under certain sunlit conditions emits a powerful green ray. If anyone sees the green light then one is supposed to be blessed by the strength of this most powerful of archangels. I must take a better look next time I’m there!


Who was the architect of this wonderful church? Tradition has it that it was Diotisalvi, the same person who designed Pisa’s baptistery. Indeed, the whole building demonstrates not just the transition from romanesque to gothic but also a syncretism between Pisan and Luccan architecture styles.


(San Michele in Foro during this year’s Luminara)

Things to point out inside the church, which is covered by a barrel vault, are three wonderful art works:

  • Andrea Della Robbia’s Madonna and Child
  • Filippino Lippi’s four saints in the ceremonial Pala ordered by the nobleman Magrini.


  • Raffaello da Montelupo’s bas-relief of the Madonna.

Saint Michael is Coreglia Antelminelli’s patron saint too and there is also a  festival there, described in my post at;

Although the Coreglia festa takes place on the 8th of May the actual day dedicated to the archangel in the church calendar is September the 29th.

Here’s something I wrote on the archangel after having visited Saint Michael’s Mount in Cornwall,


then proceeding to Mont Saint Michel


and thence to Piedmont’s Sagra di San Michele.


My visit to San Michele in Foro thus completes the mystical ley-line which unites four sacred places dedicated to the Prince of all Angels.




Saint Michael, light’s archangel, ring with fire

the subterfugal dragon with your sword;

in heaven’s war lamed souls once more aspire

to walk the fragrant gardens of their Lord.


You speak from burning crests and keep the Word

creating sky and earth, the wind and sea;

and cast from north to south a line to gird

with strength this pilgrimage and set me free.


Beyond jade mountains lead, resist and fight:

your shrines are fortresses within men’s hearts

encased by swirling tide and gargoyled height,

enfolded in veiled clouds and shrouded arts.


Perfected force, revealing energy,

through your pellucid eyes at last I see.




PS The other two archangels, Gabriel and Raphael, are also commemorated on the same day as Saint Michael. Incidentally, in these days when the various religions are praying for peace in Assisi and attempting to bring down divisions between themselves they could have no better start that these three archangels. Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Eastern Orthodox and, especially, Islam all recognize and refer in their holy books to the great power of the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael!






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