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Every year on the 27th of April Lucca celebrates the life of its most beloved patron saint, Santa Zita, with a spectacular floral tribute. For the occasion, Piazza dell’Anfiteatro (an oval shaped medieval piazza built over the remains of the Roman amphitheatre) hosts a flower market, where azaleas and rhododendrons, with their incredible shades of pinks, reds and oranges, are the queens and kings of the day. A second display takes place in Piazza San Frediano which the gardeners from Lucca’s Botanical Garden transform into a fantastic garden, choosing a different theme each year. After many years one of these gardens still stands out in my mind as the most magical of all. It took the form of an incredible display of orchids from all over the world. That April must have been warmer than it is this year!
La storia di Santa Zita
Santa Zita was born in 1218 in Monsagrati, and at the age of 12 she became a servant in the house of the noble Fatinelli family in the nearby town of Lucca. Her employment allowed her to help the poor and hungry by taking them bread and leftover food from the well-supplied kitchen of the Fatinelli house. Legend has it that one day her master, having had his suspicions raised by another servant, stopped Zita in the street and asked her what she was carrying in her bulging apron. "Fiori e fronde" (flowers and foliage) she replied, and when she opened her apron the bread that she was taking to the poor had miraculously transformed into flowers.
Zita died on the 27th of April 1278. Dearly loved by her fellow citizens, and in particular by the Fatinelli family, she was laid to rest in the Fatinelli chapel inside the beautiful Basilica di San Frediano, where her mummified body is still preserved and visible inside a glass coffin. By the late thirteen / early fourteen century Zita was already venerated as a saint, and her name had become synonymous with the town of Lucca. In fact to describe a magistrato Lucchese (magistrate from Lucca) who he met in hell, Dante wrote: "un de li anzian di Santa Zita" (one of the Elders of Saint Zita – Inferno, canto XXI). Zita was officially pronounced a saint in 1696, being declared the patron saint of housemaids and housewives. She is also the patron saint of Lucca, a role that she shares with San Paolino.