The Duomo in Lucca houses the city’s most famous relic, the Volto Santo (Holy Face), a cedar-wood crucifix, which is believed by the faithful to be a true portrait of Christ.
According to legend, the Volto Santo was carved by Nicodemus and arrived in Lucca, of its own volition, in 782, having journeyed by boat from the Holy Land. When the Volto Santo arrived at Luni, a town on the Tuscan coast, the city’s bishop was instructed by an angel to place the image in an ox-cart and where the oxen should halt, there should the Volto Santo remain. Needles to say, the oxen made their way to Lucca, where the Volto Santo has remained ever since, attracting pilgrims from all over the world.
The Volto Santo is kept in the Tempietto (1482-84), a small temple, which was created by locally-born Matteo Civitali (1436-1502). Civitali made an interesting career shift in his mid thirties when he gave up his job as a barber to become a sculptor.
The Volto Santo soon became the symbol of Lucca, appearing on the coins of the town and on the seals of the guilds of the city's merchants.
During the annual festivities the Volto Santo is adorned with precious ornaments and on September 13th, at sunset, a procession snakes its way through the town to celebrate the translation of the image from the Holy Land to Lucca.