On 27 April, Lucca pays tribute to its patron saint, Zita, a 13th century maid who, unbeknown to her master, gave food from his kitchen to the poor. Legend has it that one day Zita’s master challenged her to reveal the contents of her apron, suspecting that it contained food. But when she opened it up, the food had been transformed into flowers.
While there is no record of Zita’s birth, and despite the small village of Monsagrati near Lucca claiming to be her birthplace, there is strong evidence that Zita was born in Lunigiana, in the hamlet of Colla in Succisa in the district of Pontremoli.
Like many peasants suffering from famine, it is thought that Zita’s parents moved to the prosperous Lucca area in search of work when Zita was a small child. There are records of her father’s birth in Succisa and her paternal grandfather is buried in the local cemetery. References in a number of historical documents consistently point to Succisa as being Zita’s place of birth.
On the site of Zita’s family home, a chapel dedicated to the saint was built hundreds of years ago, although it has been rebuilt over the decades. The current doomed roof oratory dates back to 1882 (you can see it on the right in the picture below). The chapel bell is dated 1675, and was bought by the village in 1870 from a church that was closed. The bell is said to ward off lightning and hail in the surrounding countryside if played on time. Saint Zita is thought to have performed a miracle as recently as April 1945 when the the chapel was saved from bombing when German artillery inexplicably jammed.
Lucca honours Zita’s memory each year at the end of April by filling up its squares with flowers. The Piazza dell Anfiteatro turns into a flower market and the piazza in front of the Basilica di San Fredianao, where Zita’s mummified body lies in a glass case, is transformed by flowers. Succisa also celebrates Zita’s feast day with processions, special church services, music and flowers.