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Let there be light for Pisa’s patron saint

  • They know how to throw a party in Tuscany, the annual calendar is filled with festivals and special events. One of the more unusual is the Luminara, a festival of lights that takes place in Pisa in spring.

    As the sun sets on the city on 16 June, more than 70,000 candles, lumini, are hung on the ancient palaces that line the Lungarni by the River Arno, and float on its waters. Crowds gather on the banks of the river to see the city take on an ethereal glow and also watch the climax of the evening, a huge fireworks display launched from the old citadel.

    But what’s it all about? La Luminara is held in honour of St Rainerius – or San Rainieri – the patron saint of travellers and of Pisa, the city of his birth.  Born Rainerius Scacceri in 1115 to a wealthy family, he worked as a travelling minstrel in his youth. On his travels, Rainerius met a holy man named Alberto, a nobleman from Corsica who had forgone his wealth to join the monastery of St Vitus in Pisa and work with the poor.

    Rainerius was so impressed by Alberto’s story that he decided to devote his life to Christianity, journeying to the Holy Land in 1146, where he served his penance as a hermit and beggar. Returning to Pisa in 1153, word soon spread about this charismatic preacher who was said to have the power to perform miracles and exorcisms. When he died, just seven years later in 1160, he was already regarded as a saint and his body was carried through the streets to be laid to rest in the Duomo.

    Today, the Luminari isn’t the only way Pisa marks San Ranieri’s memory. He is also remembered in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, where two treasures associated with him can be seen; the hermit robe he wore, and an exquisite medieval bronze gate, that once stood in the cathedral, with 24 panels, each telling a story from the New Testament.

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