Just a few steps away from the tombstone commemorating Adele, at the corner of the second cloister near the entrance to the Church of San Francesco, visitors will note an old medieval tombstone with a lunette overhead that has one of the oldest frescoes in Lucca.
The tomb dates 1274 and contains the remains of a merchant of Lucca, who was named Tignosini.
In the chronicles of San Francesco, compiled in the 17th century by the archivist of the convent, there is a lot of information and news regarding the foundation of the convent, much of which is unpublished, strange, and sometimes, quite disturbing.
The rich merchant Tignosini, who was a resident in the parish of San Frediano, died in 1286.
He had expressed the desire of being buried in the Church of San Francesco in his will, probably instructing his beneficiaries to donate a fairly large sum of money to the friars, as was custom. Once the coffin was set up inside the church, the friars began their all-night vigil.
Up until that time, the parish of residence held the exclusive privilege to bury its parishioners on the parish premises. The powerful Augustinians of the Basilica of San Frediano, naturally, would enforce this privilege especially when it came to the nobility or wealthy merchants, penalty excommunication of the deceased. But according to the chronicles, the Canon Laws regarding burial had recently changed.
The fact remains that the Father Guardian of the convent of San Francesco heard knocking at the door during the vigil.
Upon opening the door, he was literally bowled over by a ‘squadron’ of young Augustinian monks who burst violently into the cloister as if they were real military commandos. With shoves, pushes, and threats, the monks took possession of the body, which had been lying peacefully in the church with the friars praying for the repose of the merchant. Before hauling off the coffin to the Church of San Frediano, the Augustinians, in an act of contempt, broke the four large candles that had been placed round it.
It was a huge scandal and eventually word of the incident reached the Vatican and even the Pope’s ears.
Emissaries were sent to Lucca to resolve the situation and finally, the body was buried in the tomb that we see in San Francesco.
However, the date engraved is 1274, twelve years prior to the year stated in the chronicles. So either the chronicler made an error in regard to the date of the death, or the far-seeing and astute businessman commissioned the tomb in advance to safeguard his last desire.
But what is even more astonishing than this colorful medieval story, is the fresco itself, from a historic-artistic point of view.
The Virgin Mary is holding Baby Jesus in her lap, which is typical 13th-century iconography. However, instead of being centered and looking solemnly toward the observer, they are blessing a kneeling figure to their left, the merchant Tignosini. He assumes an important role, like an actor on a stage. But the big surprise is on the other side of the mother and child: Saint Francis.
This is a surprise because it must be, absolutely, one of the oldest paintings of the saint. On the web, we find that one of the first portraits of the saint is attributed to Cimabue (1290). This fresco is from 1274, should it have been painted at the same time as the tomb. At any rate, prior to 1290. Francis died in 1226 and was canonized as a saint in record time, just two years after his death.
For certain, one of the older friars of Lucca would have seen or met him when he stopped in Pescia and then continued to Pisa. So it is likely to assume that the likeness we see, in the fresco, was done by the painter following the indications of a friar who had seen and met Saint Francis fifty years prior.
More from Eleven Unusual Things to See in Lucca:
The Last Supper by Tintoretto in the Cathedral of San Martino
The exterior graffiti on the Church of San Michele
The replica of the Holy House of Our Lady of Loreto in the Church of Santa Maria Nera