Light from Lucca

Jun 14, 2024 | READ

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matt. 5:14)

It has been five years since I have been able to travel more than about an hour from Malvern, let alone abroad, but earlier this year the Lord greatly surprised me by encouraging me to make a return trip to Tuscany, a region I love and where I have been greatly blessed on previous occasions. I have just returned from three amazing weeks in the city of Lucca, and it is a joy to share some of the blessings of that trip with you, as well as to display numerous photos on our Galleries site.

Lucca is an extremely beautiful city. It sits alongside the Serchio river in Tuscany, and is surrounded by magnificent hills. And, as you would expect in Tuscany, the light is stunningly beautiful!

Not so much ‘a city set on a hill,’ perhaps as a city filled with the achingly lovely light of God’s created sun. I hope these highlights from the journal of my recent trip to the city will bless and lift you too into the light of our Lord’s loving presence.

It is a city of nearly 100,000 people, but the city centre itself is home to just 10,000 living enclosed within the broad city walls. I have visited once before, some years ago, and had been blessed there. Now, thanks to the Lord’s breathtaking provision (and Ros’s searching on the Internet for accommodation) I found myself folded into the embrace of the walls, in a self-catering Airbnb with lovely views directly toward the cathedral. (Il Residence Duomo).

My time in Italy felt like a holy (that is, set apart) adventure. Words cannot tell the richness of it all, but I hope the photos I took, which Sally has posted in several galleries, will bless you with something of the loveliness I was privileged to experience. I was – and am! – delighted to send them out as from Roberto di Lucca!

Links to Lucca photo galleries
Lucca City
Lucca Walls
Lucca Churches
Lucca Botanic Gardens
Lucca – Trips to Cinque Terre and Bagni di Lucca

A time accorded

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (Nu. 6: 24-26)

Years ago, when I was living in Paris as a student, the Lord met me in a very specific encounter. He told me at the time that it was ‘a time accorded’ to me. It was as if He had marked a date in His diary that was set aside. My stay in Lucca had something of that same quality of being set apart, of being time out from the normal round of things. My last trip abroad, five years ago, had been cut short by news of Dad’s final illness, which saw me hurrying back from staying with a friend in Huguenot territory to the south of Lyon. It had always felt an unsatisfactory way to round off my long association with Europe. This time in Lucca was more than ‘just’ a holiday, it felt like a ‘lifted up and lifted out’ time, with the warmth of His face shining on me.

The Lord was very gracious in the way He took care of me. I had reason to be somewhat concerned about going abroad on my own: I do not walk well these days, and have struggled much with almost constant giddiness for the last three and a half years as a result of the seven diabetic palsies that I have had – including a not very nice one in Lucca a few days before I set off for home again. But the Lord was in no way thwarted. Ros had felt strongly that I should take out special assistance for the airport, and I felt like royalty as I sailed past the queues and passport control.

In Lucca itself, I had wondered how I would cope with shopping, as I knew the nearest supermarket was quite some way away, but, as Dad used to say, it is amazing what a combination of adrenaline and the Holy Spirit can do! The Lord gave me strength to walk a good deal further than I am usually able to manage, not least through the heat of His sun. I was able to make good use of buses and trains too. I’m so grateful to our Father, who weighs and assesses our needs and abilities on such finely calibrated scales. The whole trip felt like a gift. A friend phrased it well when she wrote,

Most weeks, we find ourselves pretty much living in a routine, with the occasional memorable highs punctuated here and there. However, there are exceptional occasions when God surprises us with such outstanding blessings that almost take our breath away. I would say this is one of yours, Robert! What a gift!

We had booked the apartment overlooking the cathedral for a fortnight, and a flight home to match. But as my time there drew to a close, a friend texted to say that she had heard a whisper saying that I should stay longer. With some inevitable to-ing and fro-ing on the Internet, the Lord helped me re-arrange my flight and led me to another beautiful apartment in the city centre.

What a joy! Whereas He had led me in lovely ways to places and people during the first two weeks, during the third, it was more a matter of just Him and me. I did a lot of praying and writing, and spent several afternoons reading in the local library. (I can manage Italian well enough for reading; for lack of any opportunity to practice, understanding and speaking is a very different matter).

If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another. (1 Jn. 1:7)

I love the way in which God the Father introduces us to our brothers and sisters, no matter where we are. But with a staggering 100 churches to explore this left me with something of a conundrum: where should I go on Sunday morning? I was tempted to go to a nearby evangelical church, but settled instead on an international fellowship just beyond the city walls. It turned out to be an inspired choice! The pastor and his wife (seen in the picture) have a great freshness in the Lord, and the love between the members and their delight at being together is palapable. Their praise and worship was full of dynamic joy.

The first time I went, I gently pushed the boat out by sharing a little in my rudimentary Italian when invited to do so. The following week, as the worship went deep in the Lord’s presence, I felt strongly to go up front and pray for those who are on the receiving end of great persecution, particularly Ukrainian believers who are being targeted and most brutally tortured by the Russians. This time I spoke in French, because I knew that the pastor and his wife had lived and ministered in France. As so often I came away with the feeling of ‘l’esprit de l’escalier;’ that is, I thought of all the things I could have shared and prayed! But at least I made a start!

The church was by no means the only place where I was able to enjoy fellowship. Lucca was the home of the early twentieth century Italian mystic Gemma Galgiani. This young intercessor wished to become a nun, but her health prevented her doing so. However, she foresaw a convent dedicated to the Passion of Christ being established in Lucca, which came about after her death at the age of 25. The sisters are passionately committed to praying for people to come to know Him, and also engage in extensive social work. I caught a bus to a village six miles outside Lucca to their mother house to meet up for some really precious times of fellowship and intercession with some of these ‘sisters of St Gemma.’ (They include a French-speaking sister from Burundi who I had met many years before, and who is really on fire for Jesus, and others from the Congo).

On another occasion, I ended up sitting next to a couple in the Botanical Gardens and we instantly recognised the light of Christ in each other. They are senior members of a Glasgow church, and we had a lovely time of fellowship and prayer together, including prayer for Kate Forbes, whose Christian witness in the SNP has brought her so much abuse. At one point I said ‘Do you know somebody from Dundee? Oh, I’ve forgotten his name!’ And they said, ‘Do you mean X?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I do!’ It was that sort of conversation! (X is a significant evangelical leader in Scotland.)

For it is you who light my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness. (Ps. 18:28)

Tuscany is such a lovely region. I was blown away by the sumptuous beauty of it all, and loved the colours of both nature and buildings. They complement each other so well. Being such a small city, I was able to explore its streets and squares on foot, even with my limited reach.

One day, I caught a couple of trains to Monterosso, the first of the five seaside villages that are the gem of the Italian Riviera, known collectively as Le Cinque Terre. Making my way there by train was emotionally poignant as I recalled literally dozens of places I have visited in Europe, usually on ministry trips, but beginning with a memorable month-long Interrail trip around the continent when I was eighteen.

It was a precious time of prayer and reflection, albeit that both the trains and the villages themselves were heaving, and the logistics quite complicated. I was glad to have gone, and still more glad to return to Lucca!

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (Js. 1:17)

It is precious to live in the awareness of the unchanging nature of God. All sorts of shadows pass across this earth; kingdoms rise and fall, political powers come and go, but the God of heaven has set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor given to another people. (Dan. 4:44)

I was very aware of the events that lay under my feet in Lucca, and of history on every side. Luca, as it was then spelt, was the southern-most town in what was then the Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul, where Caesar was serving as Governor, even though he spent most of his time away fighting his Gallic wars. He returned to Luca for a significant conference that led to renewing relationships with two of the other leading lights in the Roman Republic: Pompey and Crassus. Each were equally hungry for power, but the meeting provided them with a way forward as a Triumvirate.

Enterprising and indefatigable Roman architects also constructed an ampitheatre that could hold no fewer than 10,000 people. Perhaps not quite so comforting to ponder what may have gone on in that amphitheatre! You can find pictures of it as it is now in one of the photo galleries.

Many years later, after Napoleon had conquered northern and central Italy, he abolished the temporal power of the papacy and appointed his sister, Elisa, as ruler over the ‘Republic of Lucca.’ The local people resented this French imposition, but Elisa led vigorously and effectively for a decade and had a lasting impact on the city.

Lucca in the Second World War

It is with another period of conquest overshadowing Italy that my interests particularly lie, however. As part of a major project I’m working on behind the scenes, I wanted to resume my historical research into this part of Italy during the Second World War. Tucked away in the second apartment, I felt as though I was back in war-time Lucca, when fascist squads ruled the roost and treated people with great arrogance and cruelty as the turmoil and turbulence of the Nazis swept through the land.*

What devastation swept through Italy, first as the Allies fought against it, then as the Italian forces surrendered, and well-led German troops under the brilliant strategist Field Mashal Albert Kesselring came pouring into the peninsula. The history of those times is a confusing one as Fascists, Partisans, communists, monarchists and Republicans vied for supremacy and joined in the fighting, that often led to the most vicious reprisals.**

If anyone should feel like exploring this topic, you will find a wealth of information on the sites I link to below. You might also like to pray concerning my long-intended project of turning this information into one or possibly even two novels! They are to include stories from the lives of a number of Tuscan saints who walked closely with the Lord. I have all the characters and main themes lined up, but need acres of time and energy to write it all up. I look on this project somewhat as Winston Churchill did his oil paintings: deeply therapeutic and recreational in its own right, but because the story-line is seriosuly spiritual, it is genuinely worthwhile in its own right – whether or not the projects ever see the final light of day!***

Liberation of Lucca
WW2 in the Serchio Valley and Garfagnana
Battle of Garfagnana – Italy’s Battle of the Bulge

*For more details, see these websites:
Colle di Compito Concentration Camp
What amazing risks Italian farmers ran out of human kindness to shelter Allied POWs on the run!
War and resistance in Lucca

**One of the books I read in the city library was about the massacre the Germans carried out as reprisals for partisan activities at the nearby mountainous village of Sant’ Anna di Stazzema.

Preferisco il Paradiso

When I first got back home it was strange for a short while to be watching the news again in English! Italy has its own version of Sky News – the subtitles and ticker tape helped a great deal. The most moving programme I happened to catch, however, was a brilliant film called Preferisco Paradiso – ‘I prefer Paradise.’

It told the story of Philip Neri, a 16th century monk who befriended the street children of Rome. Widely known and loved for his great charity, and respected for his deep love of the word of God, and for his prayer life, he saw many miracles happening. It is four hours long but did not feel a moment too long! You can watch this delightful medival forerunner of Davd Wilkerson and Nicky Cruz, here for Part 1
and here for Part 2.

For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light (Ps. 36:9)

You are most welcome to come on a travel show photo display of some of photos I took of Lucca, Bagni di Lucca, and a few from Monterosso, the first of the famous five Cinque Terre, a string of beautiful old villages on the rugged coastline of the Italian Riviera. You will love the views from the city walls. They are just amazing. The whole trip was such a treat: a real ‘slice out of life’, tucked away with the Lord.

I am so grateful – especially as my health has been so suspect that I have not been more than an hour away from Malvern for the past five years. It was certainly prayer that enabled me to meet such lovely people, to so many interesting things, and to have such profound times with the Lord. The flavour and fragrance of the visit lingers! May all the beauty and glory of it belong to the Lord. I would like to conclude with these verses from Psalm 36:

Your loving devotion, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, Your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains;
Your judgments are like the deepest sea.
O LORD, You preserve man and beast.
How precious is Your loving devotion, O God,
that the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings!
They feast on the abundance of Your house, and You give them drink from Your river of delights.
For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light.

1 Comment

  1. Annie

    I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten……………You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wonderfully with you
    Joel2 25/6

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