Just as the main part of the shopping street starts, your eyes will be arrested by an extraordinary 13th century Byzantine-style mosaic depicting The Ascension on a shimmering gold background. It’s on the façade of The Basilica of San Frediano. The campanile crowned by crenellations seems to add further richness to this structure, started in 1112.
It is worth dragging the most reluctant children inside. The 12th century font near the main entrance at the beginning of the south aisle is in the form of a fountain and the marble panels depict the stories of Moses through vivid, busy scenes (I love the one of the Israelites disguised as knights crossing the Red Sea), the good shepherds, and the Apostles. On the wall behind is a wonderful Della Robbia terracotta roundel in need of a good wash.
Don’t miss the entrance to a chapel containing the tiny mummified body of Santa Zita that can be seen through glass, but her missing little toe can’t be seen. It was supposedly broken off and given to a British Bishop as a souvenir. This saint is mentioned in Dante’s (Inferno, XI, 38). The story goes that Zita was a maid for a local noble family; she was caught stealing bread from the kitchen to give to the poor. When confronted and asked what she was hiding in her apron she replied that it was only flowers. On further investigation it was found that the bread had indeed miraculously turned into flowers. In April the streets are filled with flowers to celebrate her. There is also a wonderful altar and two tombs (1422) by Jacopo della Quercia set into the stone floor. Opposite the chapel of Santa Zita is a chapel delightfully frescoed in 1508-09 by Amico Aspertini, the eccentric and ambidextrous Bolognese painter who, according to Vasari, hung paint pots from his belt while working furiously with both hands. These frescoes include the depiction of the arrival of Volto Santo in Lucca and it is really just a lively picture book.