Fucecchio’s religious autonomy
Gaetano Maria Rosati, a leading figure of 19th century Fucecchio culture, stated in one of his essays: “The Fucecchio church boasts an uncommon celebrity among the famous churches of Tuscany and, if it does not rival with the main ones, perhaps it surpasses them for the singularity of the events regarding it that have so much to do with ecclesiastical history… it is the last of its merits to be and to have been a privileged territory independent from time immemorial” (in «Bullettino Storico Empolese», X, 1966). The pride with which Rosati emphasized the peculiarity of the Fucecchio church was the same that, at the end of the 18th century, had spurred Canon Giulio Taviani, after the discovery of ancient documents, to ask the parish of San Giovanni Battista in Fucecchio, the town’s religious fulcrum, be elevated to a co-cathedral of the diocese.
In order to understand the peculiarity of Fucecchio’s religious reality, it is necessary to re-examine the history of the Abbey of San Salvatore, built on the highest point of Poggio Salamartano, the rise next to the Cadolingi castle. It was Count Ugolino, the last of the Cadolingis, who donated the land to the abbot in order to reconstruct the religious complex after the terrible flood in 1106 that had destroyed the church, mentioned in documents from 986, built by the will of Cadolo, and the abbey built near the Arno by his son, Lothario. The originally Benedictine abbey was offered to the Vallombrosan order by Count Guglielmo Bulgaro dei Cadolingi, a supporter of the Church’s reform movement around the middle of the 11th century.
Under the authoritative leadership of Pietro Igneo, who became its abbot, and of his successors, Pietro II and Anselmo, the abbey increased its wealth and its prestige so much, that, in 1086, Gregory VII declared it exempt from any ecclesiastical authority and dependent exclusively on the Holy See, while the parish of San Giovanni Battista, which was under the patronage of the monks, was subordinate to it.
Among the privileges conceded to the abbey, its autonomy from the Lucca bishop’s jurisdiction is especially interesting, with the possibility for the monks to choose a bishop they liked both for ordaining their monks as well as for holy oils. All this was linked to the struggle for investitures, confirming a full adhesion of the Vallombrosans to the Gregorian party. These privileges that, in a certain sense, caused the exclusion of the bishop of Lucca from Fucecchio’s religious world, were again amplified after the expulsion of the Vallombrosans and the 1258 installation of the sisters of Santa Maria in Selva di Gattaiola that however took possession of the abbey only at the end of the 13th century.
Abbess Lorenza, despite having donated a part of the assets in 1299 to the Franciscan friars because of administrative difficulties, maintained nevertheless the spiritual authority on the people of Fucecchio, which gained her the title of “ Bishopess”. Once Fucecchio entered into the orbit of the Florentine Republic, the autonomy from the Lucca bishop’s jurisdiction, supported for political reasons by the local authority, lasted uninterruptedly from the end of the 13th century until 1622, the year in which the Medicis created the diocese of San Miniato, with the aim of managing the Lucca ecclesiastical territories that were part of the Grand Duchy.
For many centuries, the Fucecchio Church, subordinate to the jurisdiction of the abbess of Santa Chiara of Lucca, actually constituted an autonomous area that was not dependent upon any diocese, “nullius diocesis”.
Rosanna Caterina Proto Pisani
in, Museo di Fucecchio. Guida alla visita del museo e alla scoperta del territorio, a cura di Rosanna Caterina Proto Pisani, Polistampa 2006