Tuscany is home to many churches, cathedrals and parish churches that introduce visitors to the territory and its spirituality. This article highlights a selection of the religious buildings that can be found along the Etruscan Coast, gems of sacred art between Livorno and Massa Marittima.
We begin our journey with the splendid (and in our opinion, not celebrated enough) Cathedral of San Cerbone in Massa Marittima, which sits at the top of a stairway that overlooks the city’s main piazza. This hazard, from an urbanistic standpoint, is nothing short of genius, and the effect of the church disobeying the usual architectural perspectives – making us think of an idea inspired by one of Giorgio de Chirico’s paintings – makes it unique in the world. Its construction began in the early 11th century, but the building process was long. A quick glance reveals two different styles: Romanesque in the lower part and Gothic in the façade, starting from the third order of columns decorated with three spires, which was applied when the cathedral was enlarged and enriched by Giovanni Pisano starting in 1287.
We continue to the “sister” church, that is, the small Co-Cathedral of Sant’Antimo in Piombino, which shares with San Cerbone the role of being the cornerstone of the diocese. Built in 1377 to replace a church dedicated to St. Michael, the cathedral of Piombino was built in the Sienese Gothic style, and was originally dedicated to St. Augustine. Many changes were made to the building over the years, including renovations made in the 1930s, when the façade was restored and a left nave was added. Meanwhile, because of the suppression of the Church of Sant’Antimo sopra I Canali, the cathedral inherited its title and dedication. It’s worth noting the beautiful mosaic from the ‘30s that decorates the lunette above the main portal.
Now let’s take the ferry to the Isola d’Elba to visit the Church of the Natività in Portoferraio, long dedicated to the city’s Marian devotion, as shown by the frescoes depicting Elba offering its incense-boat to Maria.
We move to the province (and diocese) of Livorno to visit one of the most holy of hills in the entire area, home to the Sanctuary of Montenero, where the Virgin Mary is the Patron Saint of the Region. The origins of the sanctuary date to the Pentecost in 1345, when, according to legend, a poor, crippled shepherd found a miraculous image of Mary and, following an intuition, brought it to the hill, then known as a refuge for outlaws and thus considered dangerous, a “devil’s mountain”. Regardless of the myths surrounding the story of its discovery, it seems that the icon appeared in Montenero following a renewal of fervid religious sentiment around 1341. That year, the locals in Livorno, which was little more than a village at that point in time, organized an independent cult of worship in honour of sacred images, but it was opposed by the ecclesiastic authorities. It’s possible that in the face of this hostility, the image was hidden and later rediscovered near the riverbed of the Ardenzo river by that legendary shepherd that brought it to the top of the mountain, where it came under the protection of some hermits.
We end our pilgrimage on the Etruscan Coast at the Cathedral of San Francesco in Livorno, almost completely rebuilt after it was bombed during World War II. The façade has a porch with rounded arches, some of which are attributed to Inigo Jones, the father of English Renaissance architecture. In the post-war period, two smaller porches were added to the facades of the transept, while the apse, previously modified in the early 20th century, was transformed with the construction of a large exedra next to the rebuilt bell tower.