An Outbreak of Italinglish at Corsena

You may have noticed in Italy and particularly in Tuscany that many historical buildings carry a display notice in front of them giving their name an explanation in both Italian and English.

In the Papal ‘Year of the Jubilee’ in 2000 it was decided that churches in Tuscany should carry a short description displayed outside them. A very useful booklet, ‘I luoghi della fede’, was also published which is an excellent guide to sacred buildings and sites in Tuscany. I find it very valuable, especially as it is now rather difficult to find.


This booklet is actually an introduction to a multi-volume work for each area of Tuscany which describes these sacred places in far greater detail.

Through the years many of these exterior display notices have become subject to the intemperance of the weather and many have become almost unreadable.

Passing past our parish church of San Pietro di Corsena the other day I noticed that the original notice had been removed and that a new one had been put into its place. Not only was it far less pleasing in design than the old one but it was practically unreadable, though not because of the weather this time!

Here is the Italian:


And this is the English:


Although I have taught English for several years in Bagni di Lucca’s evening classes I take no responsibility for any of my students writing this notice: their standard of English is on a far higher level. I do feel sorry, however, for the deceased pig which somehow got incorporated into the facade. And, incidentally, the Italian for ashlar is ‘bugnato’ giving a completely different complexion to the columns.

Let’s try to get the English translation into some sort of comprehensible form:

On the south side, in the lancet windows in the roof’s arcades and in the blind arcades below them, there are traces of the original building which was first mentioned in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and whose apse was incorporated in the sacristy. The original porch was subsequently incorporated into the church’s façade. The bell tower dates from the end of the seventeenth century. The interior consists of a nave and two aisles separated by quoined columns, restored at the start of the twentieth century by Luigi Norfini and decorated by Michele Marcucci while still preserving its romanesque architecture. Among the works of art are a sixteenth century font and seventeenth century paintings. These include the Madonna of the Rosary by Gaspare Marcucci and Saint Anthony of Padua by Tiberio Franchi. The adjoining oratory of the Virgin of Succour contains fine baroque wooden furnishings.

Translation of passages like these not only require language skills but architectural ones too. There are several differences in describing the same architectural features in English and Italian. ‘Monofora’ is clearly a single lancet window (not a monofore!) and a double lancet window is a ‘bifora’, a triple lancet is a ‘trifora’ and so on.


(Italian Monofora = single lancet window in English)

These types of lancets are best seen in many campanili where the tower starts with a monofora, then progresses to a bifora, then a trifora, then a quadrifora and even beyond. This system was, of course, employed to reduce the weight of the tower as progressed upwards and avoid possible collapse.  In England bell towers do not usually reach such heights and are usually terminated by wooden church spires.

Incidentally, San Pietro dei Corsena before the debatable ‘restaurations’ of the twentieth century had a perfectly good double lancet window instead of the useless rose window it now disports on its façade. I say useless because directly behind that rose window is the organ I mentioned under refurbishment in my previous post. What’s the point of a rose window if it can’t let any light through it but is just an exterior architectural appendage?


(San Pietro’s ill-concieved rose window. I could not find a photo of the original double-lancet window that once graced the facade)

Italian churches have the same term for aisles and nave. To suggest a church has three naves is nonsense (unless it be a north German hall church with aisles the same height as the nave or some exceptional examples such as Crayford’s parish church in south-east London which has two adjoining naves.


(St Paulinus Crayford, Bexley, London – one of only a handful of English churches with a double nave)

I don’t know who commissioned this translation and certainly don’t wish to know who translated it into Italinglish. Bagni di Lucca has a higher than usual number of British residents and visitors because of its historical links and surely there could have been some double –checking with some of them. In short, the part of the notice written in English should be immediately removed, revised and replaced before it becomes yet another humorous specimen of ‘lost in translation’ volumes.


7 thoughts on “An Outbreak of Italinglish at Corsena

  1. It happens all the time. Sometimes it is funny, certainly in the case of some menu translations. I have seen hasparagus and heggs with am, and mushrooms of the porky kind. I really don’t understand why people go to the bother of getting a translation and then not checking it with a native speaker.

  2. I know of one native English speaker (he’s a Scot actually) who begged the comune to improve their English notices and offered to translate a few for free. Were they interested … No! In all fairness, here in England I came across some really terrible, embarrassing French notices perpetrated by our county council.

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