Saints still play an important part in modern Italian Life and Italians particularly in the south celebrate their onomastico or saint's day as well as their birthday. So children with modern names miss out on a second birthday. Every town and village has its own patron saint or saints.
In Lucca, 27th April is the day the Lucchesi celebrates Santa Zita one of the city's patron saints and also protector of housewives and domestic workers. Her church is the magnificent Basilica of San Frediano. On entering the church, tucked in the corner behind a magnificent 12th century font and below a beautiful but musty Della Robbia, is the chapel dedicated to this much-loved character. Inside a glass casket is her tiny mummified body. The story goes that Zita in 13th Century was a maid for the local noble Fatinelli family, who 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.
For this reason every year the Piazza and the Anfiteatro just across the way, are filled with plants and flowers. The locals buy bunches, have them blessed and then place them in their homes. The Lucchesi also purchase their geraniums from the market to adorn the terraces and balconies, so after this market the whole city is filled with blooms for the summer.
Santa Zita has her literary connections and is mentioned in Dante’s Inferno (XXI, 38) "un de li anzian di Santa Zita" (one of the Elders of Saint Zita) I am intrigued by another legend surrounding this diminutive figure, that one of her little toes was supposedly broken off and given as a relic to an English archbishop. I have tried to crick my neck but her left foot is hidden do I can’t verify if her toe is missing. The right is clearly visible. If anybody knows more, I would be fascinated.