Great Romanesque churches in our part of the world

If I had to write a ‘good church guide’ to the churches in the comune of Bagni di Lucca I’d definitely choose the first four on the list below. The remaining three are in nearby comuni and a little planning will be able to include them. For example, starting from Bagni di Lucca it’s possible to do a circular tour across from Benabbio to Villa Basilica and return via Collodi and Marlia with a little detour to the Brancoleria and its superb Pieve of San Giorgio.

Do I have any particular favourite? That’s rather like asking me what pasta shape I prefer! They are all superb and anyone who misses out on them in our part of the world is missing out a great deal. If I had to choose one, however, it would be Villa Basilica’s transcendent Pieve – so fine!

Accessibility to these architectural and spiritual treasures depends on two factors:

  1. Times of church Masses. Easily checked up on Lucca’s diocesan web-site at
  2. Knowing the right person.

Here’s my list then:

Santo Stefano di Bargi San Stefano Largely Romanesque with 18th century vaulting Good


Pieve di San Cassiano San Cassiano Largely Romanesque Good


Pieve di Vico Pancellorum San Paolo Romanesque Good


Pieve di Sala Santi Quirico e Giulitta Romanesque Poor


Pieve di Popiglio Santa Maria Assunta Largely Romanesque with fine renaissance features Good


Pieve di Villa Basilica Santa Maria Assunta


Romanesque Good


Pieve di Brancoli  San Giorgio Romanesque Good


Recently I took two friends to visit San Cassiano and Vico Pancellorum.

We were shown around both pievi by well-informed locals who play a very active part in their communities: Pietro for San Cassiano (contactable through Santina’s trattoria) and Claudio for Vico Pancellorum,  president of the ‘Risveglio’ village association.

San Cassiano church is built on the site of a temple dedicated to the goddess Diana and is full of carved symbolism which dates back beyond even the Templar knights to times lost in the mists of occult pagan customs.

At Vico Pancellorum Claudio pointed out all the fine details of the pieve which still conserves its original Romanesque apse, (unlike San Cassiano).

Unfortunately, the apse’s windows are blocked by much later outbuildings used for storage. How wonderful it would be if those excrescences were demolished and light shone onto the altar.

The same argument might be said for the organ which blocks the light from the western windows. However, it is a fine seventeenth century organ supported by a fine loft from which, sadly, thirty years ago four angel heads were stolen. Could they not be re-carved from old photographs?

Vico is a wonderfully mysterious borgo and a great walk can be had by going from the Pieve up to the top of the steep town.

and returning through fragrant woods.

As the Italians say: ‘c’è l’imbarazzo della scelta’ – ‘there’s the embarassment of choice’ in this richly beautiful little corner of our awesome planet.


Vico Pancellorum’s Secret Language

Once you’re reasonably fluent in Italian it’s just the start of your learning process! I’ve already mentioned in a recent post that there are at least twenty-six regional languages which could be said to be rather more than dialects because they have their own literature and literary societies. Most obviously, the great eighteenth Venetian playwright, Carlo Goldoni wrote both in Venetian and Italian. (There’s a good Venetian on-line machine translator at .Even composers like Pergolesi did not disdain to accept opera libretti written in the Neapolitan language such as his ‘Lo frate ‘innamorato. (See for Neapolitan if you need it, especially when listening to ‘Lo frate ‘nnamorato’).

We are lucky in Tuscany because the region’s language is the basis of current Italian. Dante saw to that when he wrote his ‘Divine Comedy’ in the ‘vulgar tongue’ (i.e. not in Latin). Having said that, there are many local variants in Tuscan Italian, not least phonetically, as anyone who’s lived in Florence knows where any ‘k’ sound is turned into ‘h’ aspirate (I.e., instead of ‘casa’ Florentines say ‘hasa’).

Lucchese is meant to be a very polished form of Tuscan Italian (indeed families of the Italian nobility used to send their daughters to schools in Lucca to pick up a ‘refined speech’.)  Yet even in the walled city it’s worth investing in a dictionary of Lucchese, such as Ippolito Nieri’s (Ponte a Moriano’s great philologist) work which can be found at

Luckily, Tuscan variants are largely lexical rather than syntactical. I.e., the deep grammatical structure usually remains the same with subject-verb-object being the basic pattern with only the vocabulary changing.

Just to give you some very simple examples of Lucchese as it spoken around Lucca:

We/us Noi Noialtri (cf. Spanish ‘Nosotros’)
You come too Vieni anche tu Vieni anco te
Show him/her who you are Fargli vedere chi sei Fanni vedé chi sei


‘Ni’ is used in the Lucchese even more frequently than the ‘ne’ in standard Italian, replacing many different forms of ‘gli’, ‘lo’ etc.

I could go on for miles but if, as a forestiere living in this part of the world, you start to cut off the last syllable ‘re’ from infinitives and indulge in other elisions then it’s clear proof that you are turning into a Lucchese. (E.g. ‘me va fà na bella cena’ = ’I’m going to have a nice supper’.)

Going up into the mountains of the Lucchesia, especially if you’re venturing into the remoter reaches of the Garfagnana and even if you are Italian-perfect, more problems are likely to be encountered. For example, people from Bagni di Lucca have to have things said to them at least twice over in the bars of Vagli di Sotto and di Sopra at the upper end of the Serchio valley before they get the gist of what is being uttered. (And that’s before they start on the drink…).

Which reminds me, I have now come to the stage, living here for over twelve years, where, especially in the summer tourist season starting now in Bagni di Lucca, I hear people talking what seems to be an unknown foreign language, only to realise that it is English that is spoken, but in a weird part of the Islands!

Happily, Italians everywhere are glad to know you are making efforts to learn and speak their beautiful language so they will (unlike the French) slow down and try to speak a more standard Italian.

However, there are still certain areas of the world where people don’t really encourage you to speak their language (I’m thinking of the more inaccessible valleys of Wales where many people don’t like you to understand everything they are talking about). This is especially the case with particular specialist trades. Language for them is indeed like a closed shop. You’ve got to understand the language before you can practise the craft. Nowhere is this more apparent in those communities of the lucchese Mediavalle and Garfagnana where there are (or have been) metallurgical workers. In Fornovolasco, for example, the Lucchese lexical structure is mixed up with words coming from the Brescian dialect since in mediaeval times families of iron-founders from that part of Italy settled in these parts to mine and exploit the excellent ores they discovered lay in the Apuan alps.

This is also the case with ‘l’arivaro’, the ‘secret’ language of metal workers in Vico Pancellorum of which, unfortunately, there is only one fluent speaker left.

(A View of Vico Pancellorum)

On Saturday evening at Luca and Rebecca’s bookshop there was a fascinating conference given by three inhabitants from this beautiful and sequestered borgo of our comune. The speakers were Claudio Stefanini, president of ‘Il Risveglio’ local association which does a lot to give life to the village, especially with its summer exhibition, Manuel the grandson of the last speaker of the language and Lisa, a linguistics student, who is writing a thesis on the language.

(From left to right: Lisa, Manuel and Claudio.)

The main points I gathered were as follows:

  1. The language is strictly tied to the trade of tin-lining the interior of copper pots which would otherwise be poisonous to cook in.
  2. The language is syntactically the same but lexically is quite different from standard Italian.
  3. The full language is reduced to two speakers since everyone else speaking it has either died or emigrated or forgotten it.
  4. The language takes its vocabulary from an area of Calabria which, in turn took words from Albanian and Spanish. (e.g. ‘window’ is Italian ‘finestra’ but in vicoan ‘arivaro’ it is ‘ventana’.)
  5. Basic parts of the language are still in use today in Vico Pancellorum For example, a common greeting up there is ‘ere’ (pronounced as it is written). This is a variant of ‘muori’, ‘die’. If that greeting sounds morbid then there are so many Italian phrases which are used to mean the opposite. I.e. ‘ere’ actually means ‘top of the morning to you!’ Another more widespread Italian expression is ‘in Bocca al Lupo’ which means ‘may you land up in the wolf’s mouth’ which actually means ‘good luck.’ The point here is that if you wished good luck to an Italian they wouldn’t believe you! (Never, ever say ‘buona fortuna’ to anyone in this country!!!). It’s a bit like the English ‘break a leg’!
  6. The language is used by speakers for confidential matters which they want to keep secret and not let out to ‘forestieri’. i.e. anyone who wasn’t born in Vico Pancellorum.

The talk in ‘Shelley House’ was immensely well-attended with standing room only for many people, including the mayor. The best part was hearing Claudio and Manuel having an amusing conversation in ‘arivaro’.  We are promised a dictionary of the language and it will surely be fascinating to read Lisa’s completed thesis.

My own theory about forms of languages is as follows:

Standard world language Lingua Nazionale The language as it is presented in standard grammars and spoken by the educated class
Allowed regional  languages Lingue regionali Often quite different and with opposed roots from the standard world language e.g. Welsh in the UK and Friulian in Italy. These languages will be distinguished easily by having locations with two separate names and separate road signs.
Dialect Dialetto Lexical and often syntactical variants of the standard language
Slang Gergo Typical ‘street’ or ‘country’ language. Examples includes cockney rhyming slang and rap.
Metalanguage Metalinguaggio Without getting into deep water because there are so many issues in discussing this term, this means any specialised language used in particular defined areas. These could go from scientific experiments to linguistic analysis to tin-lining copper pots in Vico Pancellorum. This type of language is essentially linked to a particular physical or mental activity.


It’s my theory that ‘l’arivaro’ is, in fact, a meta-language of a very particular kind with input from local ‘gergo’ (which it is usually referred to by the inhabitants)  and dialectical forms connected with other areas of Italy or even Europe. It’s just so sad that so many languages of whatever category are in danger of disappearing for ever in the world. For example, in Tierra del Fuego there’s only one native speaker of Yaghan the local language left. So if you meet up with Abuela on Navarrino Island in Chile and hear her talking to herself don’t imagine she’s going nutty; it’s just that she has no-one else to talk to in her language.

Now let me tell my cat Napoleon to get off my keyboard. How does one say that in Felinian?

PS Do check on the very interesting future events at ‘Shelley House’ on their facebook page at


Italian Families

The Italian Christmas Crib, ‘Il presepe’ or’ Il presepio’, is perhaps the deepest core of Italy. The Christmas crib is not just a representation of the Sacred Holy Family. It is also the beating centre of Italy itself – the secular family. The earthly family with all its irrevocable ties, with its loves and hates, with its harmonies and dissents, with its solidarities and its jealousies looks towards the Holy Family as an ideal of life itself.

The Holy Family is thus an almost platonic paradigm of what a family aspires to, and all too often fails, to achieve. That’s why also same-sex unions with its concomitants of adoptions, artificial insemination etc. is so difficult to accept in contemporary Italy. For Roman Catholicism, which celebrates the family through its Holy representation in the crib, is not just a religion, the predominant one (the official state religion until quite recently). It is also a cultural facet, a way of thinking in Italy – just like Tantric Buddhism is in Tibet, or Islam in so many other countries.

Fortunately, there is a clear separation between state and religion in Italy – sculpted in the Lateran pacts of 1929 and in the Italian constitution of 1946. It is hard, however, to separate the devotion paid to making cribs and the adoration that the majority of Italians pay to their often divisive and litigational family members.

Moreover, the family is the backbone of the Italian economy. Like father, like son, Italy has the largest number of ‘piccole imprese’ – small businesses – of any other country in Europe. The centre of these industries is the family. If your father is a blacksmith it’s most likely your first job will be heating the forge. If your father is a doctor then it’s most probable you’ll finish up in the medical profession.

Location is so important too. While mum and dad are out at work, the kids are entrusted to the vast unpaid voluntary social work force of grand dads and grand mums. It’s so important to be close to each other for, though you might have even somewhat deep differences, every quarrel is forgotten when it comes to caring for children. They are the little gods in this country.

That’s the true significance of the Italian crib which was first famously thought up by Saint Francis of Assisi at Greccio (a little town near Rieti, Lazio) when in 1223, he created the first living depiction of the Nativity. Thomas of Celano, chronicler of St Francis’ life, briefly describes the scene: “There’s the manger. Bring some hay, lead in the ox and the ass. We honour thereby simplicity: poverty is exalted, humility is praised and Greccio becomes almost a new Bethlehem”.

You could spend the entire Christmas season following presepe trails and you wouldn’t even cover a fraction of them. Here are just a few leaflets covering our part of Tuscany:

(PS The angel is by Leonardo Da Vinci himself and is in the church at San Gennaro in the Lucchesia)

Yesterday, for example, we saw a sign saying ‘presepe’ just at the turnoff to Gioviano where there is an excellent restaurant called ‘Il Cappuccetto Rosso’ (Little Red Riding Hood), a favourite of fellow blogger Debra Kolkka and described in her post (among several others).

This was the ‘presepe’ which has been there since the last century and is certainly one of the best we’ve seen in our little part of the world. It is simply marvellously enchanting. Like every presepe in every region of Italy, the miracle of the Virgin Birth is surrounded by local craftspeople: from carpenters to shepherds, from olive gatherers to millers, from fishermen to cowherds.

The premonition of Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection was particularly moving:


What’s great is that so many of the characters are automated so you can actually ‘see’ people chopping wood, grinding corn, fishing and carving,

The greatest thing, however, is that this wonderful presepe is respected by all. There is no vandalism or stealing of its beauties despite the fact that there is no-one present there all the time to look after it. To do so would be sacrilege, not only against the concept of the Holy family itself but of that ever-pulsating heart of Italy: that energy that propels this wonderful country along through thick and thin – the family which becomes transmuted into the Holy Family through its devotion to its children and through the immense love Italians have for their future generations. That is the true driving force, the spot-on religion of this loving, lovable country.

Here are our comments (and others in the visitors’ book:


Treasure Trove of (Mainly Local) Old Photographs

Just over a week ago a chance subject in a conversation with a nearby long-standing friend revealed that her grandfather had been a photographer and that she had discovered a large box filled with hundreds of old photographs in the attic of her house.

I was particularly excited by this news since photographs are increasingly being used as past evidence and social history. A book many of us have bought showing old photographs of the Bagni di Lucca area and published by the local Historical Association branch shows how fertile this area of research can be.

My friend came down with the cardboard box and I cursorily sifted through their contents, Here indeed, was a large part of the photographs her grandfather (who had sadly died prematurely in 1929) had taken, There were also photographs taken later by other members of the family and stacks of old postcards.

The photographs could be divided into the following categories:

  1. Individual studio portraits
  2. Informal individual and family photographs.
  3. Photographs of important local public events.
  4. Miscellaneous.

I was allowed by my friend to take home some of the photographs to scan them and correct some defects (in contrast, mainly).

I started publishing a very small selection I’d made of these precious documents on Facebook and received a truly rapturous reception from many of my Italian friends in this area.

The majority of photographs deal specifically with the Bagni di Lucca area although some, from their background, originate from the USA. This one of the photographer’s studio in Ponte a Serraglio was even identified by one facebook friend as her great-great-grandfather!


The photographs date from the 1870’s to the 1970’s. Interestingly, some of the photographs have writing or pictures on the back. The writing is very much of the ‘I miss you’ type and these come from those pictures taken abroad in the USA (and one from Russia) where so any bagnaioli emigrated to.

A lot more research will have to be done on these photographs, particularly with regard to their subjects and dating. However, I have permission to publish the following under the separate categories I have given them. It would be so interesting to receive comments about them especially if you recognize any of the persons or places depicted.

  • Studio portraits (individual – couples – groups)
  • Informal individual and family photographs.
  • Photographs of important local public events.

Some of you will recognise the opening of the road (la carreggiabile) which now connects San Cassiano and adjoining villages with Bagni di Lucca and which featured in an exhibition at San Cassiano some years ago. It was built in the twenties and before that time the only way you could get to Bagni di Lucca from Longoio was by Shanks’s pony’ or a mule if you were lucky.

Others will see the Corpus Domini procession from San Gemignano to the Pieve di Controni which I also attended some years ago. I haven’t seen it happen, unfortunately, for some time now.

  • Miscellaneous

(Viareggio c 1913)



(War memorial at Pieve di Controni, Giardino Collodi and Val di Lima among subects included above)

There are plenty more to scan and preserve but I was particularly struck by these ones.

PS BTW It’s the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary today (a public holiday in Italy) so why not listen to the best setting of her song of exaltation: The Magnificat:

Magnificat anima mea Dominum,et exsultavit spiritus meus in Deo salvatore meo,quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae.Ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes,quia fecit mihi magna,qui potens est,et sanctum nomen eius,et misericordia eius in progenies et progeniestimentibus eum.Fecit potentiam in brachio suo,dispersit superbos mente cordis sui;deposuit potentes de sedeet exaltavit humiles;esurientes implevit boniset divites dimisit inanes.Suscepit Israel puerum suum,recordatus misericordiae suae,sicut locutus est ad patres nostros,Abraham et semini eius in saeculaGloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto,Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper,et in Saecula saeculorum. Amen.

My soul doth magnify the Lord : and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded : the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold, from henceforth : all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me : and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him : throughout all generations.
He hath shewed strength with his arm : he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat : and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things : and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel : as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever.


PS If you don’t know what the Immaculate Conception is do read my post on it at





Christmas Count-Down in Mediavalle

As another prime minister, this time leader of Europe’s third largest economy, has shot himself in the foot over yet another referendum I wonder whether the traditional method of Parliamentary voting through one’s representatives is going out of fashion if one wants to change the government…..

Something that is not going out of fashion or be decided by a referendum, however, is Christmas despite the past efforts of certain English councils, to appease practising atheists and those of other faiths, to have it renamed ‘winterval’. I remember the occasion  when my own former place of work decided not to have a Christmas tree in its foyer. The first person to complain about this new ‘regulation’ was our receptionist who came from India. She was quite livid about it and the Christmas tree was put back in its proper place.

Christmas is not just for Christians. It has become a world-wide celebration of hope in the coming year, a gathering together of families and communities, a celebration of faith in the Earth. The only humbug thing about Christmas are those nice zebra-striped boiled sweets.


Christmas in Italy, especially in the mountain villages, is something not to be missed. The ‘presepe vivente’ or ‘living crib’, where the village streets provide a perfect scenario for presenting old traditions and crafts and the birth of the baby Jesus himself, is particularly special. We have been privileged to have been role-players in one particularly spectacular one at Equi Terme. There are many more, however, closer to home.

Every year in the comune of Bagni di Lucca there’s a circulating one which each year chooses a village out of Granaiola, Monti di Villa and Pieve di Monti di Villa. This year it was Pieve di Monti di Villa’s turn but on the same day I could have gone to at least five others within an hour’s drive from our house. Moreover, there was a great Christmas market at Borgo a Mozzano with a re-enactment of Saint Nicholas (the original Santa Claus) throwing the devil off the Ponte Della Maddalena. To top it all there was a magnificent guitar recital by a great virtuoso at the convent of Saint Francis. Doubtless there was more happening but how on earth could I fit it all these activities?

I started with the Christmas market at Borgo. This was the beginning of the afternoon so the crowds hadn’t arrived yet. There were stalls to please all tastes for Christmas gifts.

My next stop was the Presepe Vivente at Pieve di Monti di Villa. I found this beautifully organized and very well-attended. It was good to meet many friends too. I couldn’t stay on for the actual nativity scene for I’d promised to be at a concert.

See how many old village crafts you can count. Needless to say some of them are still being carried out to this very day. Have you prepared your garden for spring planting? How well stocked is the winter feed for your goat? And who hasn’t got a friend who can cheer you up with some folk music. (There were no less than four bands that afternoon). And as for the food on offer… tasty and home-grown, especially the cheese!

Our living crib villages have got it absolutely right. The crib should be just for one day and it should start from mid-day and finish in time for dinner before it gets too dark and cold. Full marks and more for the presepe vivente di Pieve di Monti di Villa. It was absolutely brilliant.

It was then back to Borgo a Mozzano for the market and the concert. The high street was now very well attended. I had to miss the Saint Nicholas procession, however. (He chases the devil and throws him from the stupendous mediaeval ponte Del diavolo). A concert of John Dowland and J S Bach played by Nuccio D’Angelo, one of the world’s great guitar virtuosi (he’s even played in Darwin Australia and all over the USA, of course) could not be overlooked!

This was the programme:


Within the beautiful setting of the convent of San Francesco the church grew colder and colder but Nuccio’s expressive playing more than warmed up the capacity audience. I particularly enjoyed his use of baroque ornamentation.

His transcription of Bach’s Lute suites for guitar (which involved quite a bit of re-tuning) was close to miraculous.

An encore was requested but although Nuccio jokingly said ‘you’ll have to wait for it next June when it’s warmer in this church’ he provided us with another Bach meltingly beautiful sarabande.

There are still twenty days to Christmas. Will I have the energy to make it to that day when there is so much happening just in our little valley? And I haven’t even mentioned the light shows and street parties and the best fun and games to warm up a month which is getting even ccccccccolder!

Apricity Combines with Chinoiserie in Villa Ada

If ‘April is the cruellest month’ (as the opening line of one of the last century’s greatest poems says) then surely November is the saddest. It is the start of advent but Christmas seems still so far away (although it will catch up with us before we know it!). The days become ever shorter preparing us for that most mournful of days: St Lucy eve. As John Donne describes it:

 The sun is spent, and now his flasks

         Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;

Yet I should not complain. We have had a sequence of totally wonderful winter days with true blue skies at Bagni di Lucca. But if you just step into a shadow then it’s soooooo cold!

There are blog posts and facebook entries that inspire and two of them joined together to make my day.

The first was that of UK tour guide and writer par excellence Stephen Liddell with his post linked at:

Yes, Stephen’s introduced me to a word I knew not but could easily apply to describe the sensation of feeling the light squibs of the winter sun upon me. It’s ‘apricity’ and what a wonderful word it is and sounds.

The second was a facebook entry and photo by Rita Gualtieri, a local friend, who showed me a Gingko Biloba in Lucca’s botanical gardens in the fullness of its autumn colouring:


She then posted a picture of a Gingko Biloba in Villa Ada gardens, Bagni di Lucca. It did look so sorry for itself in the abandoned grounds of what used to be the English Florentine consul’s summer residence.

The whole area seemed so neglected: like a gorgeous nymph left alone in a forest where no-one could find her and gaze upon her infinite beauty.


The ginkgo biloba is a living fossil of a tree and dates back 250 million years to the Permian era. After the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the only living things found to survive were six Ginkgo trees!

The only other Gingko tree I can remember seeing in this part of the world is in the botanical gardens of Lucca but there’s also one in another tristfully neglected spot – the garden of the Duke of Lucca’s summer villa just above the terme. (see my post at ).  The seeds of the fruit are esteemed in Chinese cuisine – that is, if you can bear to collect them since their smell has been described as half way between very rancid butter and vomit.

Today, walking through the gardens that once had held happier memories but now were falling apart as we all must do in our short lives, I experienced a transcendentally beautiful afternoon with a cloudless sky and a sun promising humanity that it would never let us down even in the coldest of winters.

I even met some friends who showed me precisely the Gingko Biloba so badly battered in last year’s February storms. The tree had been shed of all its fantail leaves by the strong winds of recent days. Scattered among the already dark brown and withered leaves of the other trees they shone a bright gold like nature’s own coinage among the dimming ground.

I was truly experiencing apricity and quite overjoyed about it.

With the bamboos, China’s very special Gingko tree,  and the steps that seemed to lead to a temple I felt I was back in the east. I half expected a Panda to appear in the trance-like state I had entered.

Thankyou Stephen and Rita. Even through the ether, you helped me open my heart to the beauty of this earth at a time when all nature seems to close up on us.

San Cassiano Inaugurates its New Wonder Machine

Italian weather is rarely understated, unlike English weather, which is tempered by maritime conditions and the Gulf Stream.

Italian storms are of a Vivaldian intensity and stop as abruptly as they start, with virtuoso cascades, terrifying rumblings of thunder, landslides and dramatic lightning effects in between.

Here was the situation only a couple of days ago, best caught on these videos from our house in Longoio.

Today Sunday, however, we woke up to this,:

It was as if our whole Val di Lima had had a cardiac crisis with its meteorological conditions and that today everything has been beautifully cleansed, peaceful, blue and calm. Just the day to celebrate, thanks to the enthusiasm of the fund raisers, the inauguration of a machine which, especially because of our torturous mountain roads (never easy for ambulances to drive fast down), will most certainly save lives because it’s close by and acts quickly.

Today there’s going to be the inauguration (with blessing by the parish priest and the customary rinfresco afterwards) of the defibrillator at San Cassiano. (Defibrillation consists of delivering a therapeutic electric current – often called a counter shock – to the heart with a defibrillator in the case of life-threatening cardiac dysrhythmias and ventricular fibrillation which could so easily lead to cardiac arrest and certain death). Funds were raised locally largely due to the sterling fund-raising work of local citizens Paul Anthony Davies and his wife, Morena with the support of  the indefatigable Roberto (alias Coco).

There are already defibrillators at the villages of Montefegatesi and Tereglio so why not at San Cassiano? Well, there’s one there too from today!

The event starts at 3.30 pm at the square in front of beautiful San Cassiano church. You are cordially invited to be there if you are nearby.

Incidentally, you usually increase your appreciation of Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ by living in Italy. Here’s the red priest’s take on our storm:


ॐ नमः शिवाय (OM NAMAH SHIVAYA)

OM NAMAH SHIVAYA (ॐ नमः शिवाय)

His Thousand Names are inadequate to describe Him.
But when mankind knows Him, they will have everything.

The mantra Om Namah Shivaya is perhaps the most powerful mantra for Lord Shiva. It has five syllables in Sanskrit and therefore known as the pancha (five) kshara (syllables) mantra. The number five is auspicious for Shiva as it comprehends the five major elements that permeate all creation: earth, air, fire, water and space. Shiva is all these five elements into one perfect wholeness.

Start the day by reciting Om Namah Shiva (lit: ‘I bow to the name of Shiva’) and you will receive protection from this great power says Baba Cesare as he leaves Guzzano, Bagni di Lucca for Hampi, India.

No guru can give you Nirvana; this you can only achieve yourself. The baba can guide and show the way, but the devotee must carry out the practice.

Ciao Baba Cesare. Alla prossima!

ॐ नमः शिवाय




Baba Cesare has left his ashram near our village of Longoio, Italy for his ashram in Hampi, India. The winter chill was already beginning to have its feel upon him and, like a swallow, he has flown south.

I’ve already written about Baba in my post at .

Together with his friends, disciplines and acolytes we wish Baba a safe journey back to his spiritual homeland. At the same time I feel that Baba has left a great spiritual strength for us to nurture in our hills. Rarely have I met someone so much in pursuit of that which is higher than any of us – that o so multifariously difficult-to translate-word of eastern philosophy known as Dharma.

Simply put Dharma is the right way of doing things and the carrying out of duties according to this right way. What is the right way?  Once Baba said to me ‘I know that I don’t know’. And sometimes it comes to me that perhaps I don’t know that I do know. Rightness is, above all, liberty from attachment and from anything that weighs one down with material preoccupations. Are my worries a matter of life and death? Only thinking about Dharma should put me right about that.

There are many books dating back to the most ancient of sages which lay down the right way of doing things but only by carrying out one’s life in a veracious manner will convince and, above all, feel upon the pulse, the greatness of Dharma.

To harmonise oneself with the universal law of Dharma one has to understand the rule of Karma, which is equally universal in mankind. It’s inherent in such biblical statements like ‘as you sow so shall you reap’, from Galatians 6.7, from such scientific statements as cause and effect and from such human interfaces as action and reaction. Cutting a cluster of grapes from the vineyard will cause it to fall into a basket. Good actions will develop one, bad ones can only destroy one in the end. Virtue and sin in the Christian eschatology – heaven and hell both internally and externally are all there for one to see, feel, believe and practise.

Without the third Hindu concept of Artha it would be impossible for most people to practise good Karma and thereby enable one’s own Karma to draw closer and harmonise with Dharma. For Artha is the means of life, the actions which enable one to survive in the world whether it is undertaking powerful take-over business bids or street-begging. It also means clarity, the ability to be able to look after oneself without harming others.

Without the proper conduct of Artha, Karma and Dharma one will constantly be an anguished soul suffering pererenially in a Dantean hell with no means of escape at any time .

The ‘Itness’ of it is both very simple and very complex. The simplicity is in the clarity and apparent obviousness of it. The difficulty is in the deviousness and obfuscation of the human psyche. There are so many ways to be evil but only one way to be good.

Lies have to be remembered. The truth has no need to be remembered. It just is. Nothing is hidden – not even the most devious falsehood. Good action heals, bad action hurts. No action disappears without trace. It is kept in the memory of the Godhead.  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Dharma is truly the Golden rule.

The Dhammapada is a Buddhist text translated into Pali from ancient Sanskrit sources. There can be no better expression of Dharma than these opening verses:

What we are is the result of what we have thought,
is built by our thoughts, and is made up of our thoughts.
If one speaks or acts with an impure thought,
suffering follows one,
like the wheel of the cart follows the foot of the ox.

What we are is the result of what we have thought,
is built by our thoughts, and is made up of our thoughts.
If one speaks or acts with a pure thought,
happiness follows one,
like a shadow that never leaves.

“They insulted me; they hurt me;
they defeated me; they cheated me.”
In those who harbour such thoughts,
hate will never cease.

“They insulted me; they hurt me;
they defeated me; they cheated me.”
In those who do not harbour such thoughts,
hate will cease.

For hate is never conquered by hate.
Hate is conquered by love.
This is an eternal law.
Many do not realize that we must all come to an end here;
but those who do realize this, end their quarrels at once.


We all hope so much to see you next year Baba Cesare (or maybe before in India?). You have both brought me down to earth and into heaven by your presence, your all-seeing eye, your calmness and your words. God bless!






Cross-Bows at the Palazzo Buonvisi

A tournament forming part of the Italian league of ancient and historical sports was held outside the Palazzo Buonvisi (ex-Villa Webb) in Bagni alla Villa, Bagni di Lucca on Sunday, 18th September.  The ancient sport was on this occasion, cross-bow shooting (gara di balestra storica da braccio ) and participants came from many parts of Italy including Orvieto, Genoa, Città del Castello and, of course, our own Bagni di Lucca where the Vicaria della Val di Lima organized the event. The results of the competition were valid for the Italian championship in ancient sports.

Here are some photos I took of the event last Sunday. You’ll see that the sport is open to both men and women. The Ukrainian Orthodox Bishop of Milan was also invited to the event.

Inside the Palazzo Buonvisi is a fine example of a quick crossbow loader. All crossbows would be prepared by a loader ready for quick-succession firing like a machine gun thus avoiding cross-bow shooters to waste time loading their own. (Cross-bows are more accurate than long-bows but rather slower in the loading of arrows.) Virgilio Contrucci, a key person in the vicaria (and also in the terme’s bar) is the demonstrator:

The Vicaria Della Val di Lima has done sterling (or should we call it Euro?) work in sprucing up palazzo Buonvisi. The gardens have been cleared of brambles, the approach steps cleaned of moss and many beautiful architectural features have been revealed after years of neglect.

Here’s something about the palazzo’s history. It was built between 1518 and 1570 by the Buonvisi, perhaps the richest family of Lucca, as their summer retreat. On its entrance portico is a coat of arms with a cardinal’s hat recollecting the fact that the Buonvisi had produced no less than three cardinals in their family tree.

Among illustrious guests and lodgers of the palazzo were James Francis Edward Stuart, (otherwise known as the old pretender, alias James III, and father of ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie) and his wife Maria Clementina Sobieska.

The Buonvisi family sadly died out and the palace was sold to the noble Montecatini family who then vended it to John Webb in 1812. Webb was a rich merchant, originally from Hotwells, Bristol whose conservation society’s current chair is my former English master, Brian Worthington. Webb established a flourishing trading company in Livorno (Leghorn). Special exports from Italy included oil of bergamot, (presumably for Earl Grey tea?) and juniper berries (undoubtedly for London gin). Webb’s special imports included cane sugar from the West Indies and Jamaican hot red peppers.

John Webb is buried in Livorno’s English cemetery (which I still have to visit.) Among his coterie of guests was George Gordon Byron who struck up a close friendship and spent the summer of 1822 at the palazzo. (The plaque commemorating Byron’s visit appears on the right side of the palazzo façade with his first name spelt incorrectly in English (but correctly in German.)


In 1978 the palace was sold to Bagni di Lucca’s comune who restored it and used it as a nursery school. It’s also been used as a venue for the schools’ theatre season. Since 2010 it is the headquarters of the Vicaria di Val di Lima, our local historical enactment society. It’s a most worthy setting for the Vicaria, I feel.

The Vicaria di Val di Lima has a web site at

Unfortunately the web site is not kept up to date but I did find information about the event from the Bagni di Lucca Proloco web site at which has a pretty exhaustive list of events happening in our comune and also from the tourist office and from some bar posters.

The publicity may have scope for improvement but I feel that much of the inertia of the lack of spectators was due to the fact that maybe, especially on Sunday mornings, several inhabitants may have been indulging in other ancient and historical sports largely practised between their bed-sheets. (Please correct me if I’m wrong, however!)


PS For the three fascinating museums now housed in the palazzo Buonvisi see my post at: