For centuries, in a picturesque Tuscan town near the Mediterranean coast, legions of pilgrims came to venerate one of Christendom’s most treasured relics — an eight-foot-tall wooden crucifix known as the “Volto Santo de Lucca.”
According to the legend, “The Holy Face of Lucca” had been sculpted by a divine hand and remained hidden for centuries before an Italian bishop discovered it on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the eighth century. The crucifix was put on a ship with no crew and miraculously set sail to the Tuscan coast, where an angel helped guide the relic to its final home in a cathedral in Lucca.
On Friday, science provided another story — and it is remarkable in its own right.
The crucifix was shown to be the oldest surviving wooden carving in Europe. And it remains in remarkable condition, the downcast eyes of Christ on the cross still captured in dramatic detail.
“A new chapter opens for art history,” said Annamaria Giusti, one of Italy’s best-known art restorers and a consultant for the Cathedral of San Martino, which authorized the study of the crucifix to coincide with the commemoration of the 950th anniversary of its foundation.
Speaking at a news conference in the nave of the cathedral, Ms. Giusti said that the dating of the relic to a period between the end of the eight century and the middle of ninth century raised fresh questions about its origins and its iconography and would lead to new areas of research.