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Via Francigena

Pistoia: pilgrims and lovers in worship of San Jacopo

Hospitals in Pistoia and the bizarre occurrences that are linked to the feast of the city’s patron saint

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In 1144, the patron saint of Pistoia, San Jacopo, was instituted in Pistoia, finally making a centuries-long tradition a reality. Over the centuries, Pistoia was one of the stops made by pilgrims traveling along the Via Francigena. Saintly worship meant fortune for many hospitals in the Montalbano area, like the hospital in San Baronto, built in 1000; the San’Antonio, located between Papiano and Porciano; and the Pieve di Casalguidi in the Piana Pistoiese. In addition to the San Jacopo hospital, built by Bishop Atto, there is also the church of San Jacopo in Castellare, built above the historic centre of Pistoia, near the medieval walls that protected the city from the barbaric invasions.

Thanks to the relic of the saint and to the splendid silver altar, the Pistoia Duomo was a habitual stop by pilgrims, who came to pray for their protection during the long journey to Campostela. In Serravalle, there was a large refuge called “La Maggiora” that offered accommodation to pilgrims who came to venerate San Jacopo. Over the course of the 13th century, Pistoia celebrated the days-long Feast of San Jacopo on July 25. The people of Pistoia highly anticipated the days of the feast, and the market and games played in those days mixed both sacred and profane, giving rise to some very bizarre occurrences.

As Federico Gori wrote in the magazine “Microstoria” (Issue 1, June 1999): “We all know that summer nights give rise to particular situations and the girls and boys of Pistoia were certainly not insensitive to the effect of warm, summer evenings…but were would they go in the city to exchange their affections? The problem was solved in a bizarre manner because the authorities had to put an end to a very widespread and embarrassing occurrence. In 1296, a special guard was established to stop Pistoia’s young citizens from going into the cathedral to make love on the evenings of the feast of the patron saint. And to think that ten men were needed to make sure this didn’t happen anymore!”