The Blessed Julia Certaldi decus et gloria
Thus is the Blessed Julia, to whom Certaldo has always expressed great devotion, defined. The blessed woman rests in the Church of Santi Jacopo e Filippo, in front of a bust of Certaldo’s most famous son, Giovanni Boccaccio, allowing us to become acquainted with the spirituality of this center in the Valdelsa. The Blessed Julia was part of a group of hermit saints in the Valdelsa, similar to Fina of San Gimignano and Veridiana of Castelfiorentino. There are many similarities, especially to the latter, from their modest origins and their extremely humble work, one worked for the Attavanti family, and Julia worked for the Tinolfi family of Certaldo where she was a maidservant. Following the Tinolfis, who moved to the city in the 1340’s, Julia also went to Florence where – unlike Veridiana who was never part of any order – she joined the Augustinians, who later, together with the Tinolfis, promoted her cult.
Upon her return to her birthplace, she made a choice similar to that of Veridiana’s: she closed herself in a cell next to the Sacristy of Santi Jacopo e Filippo then ruled by the Augustinians, until her death in 1367. In 1372, only a few years after her death, an altar was erected in her honor, with the bishop’s permission, as Brocchi recorded (G.M. Brocchi, 1761, II, p. 151).
On this altar a cuspidate dossal-shaped painting was found, as seen in a watercolor drawing found in 17th century documents kept in the Basilica of Santo Spirito in Florence (ASF Corporazioni religiose soppresse dal Governo francese, 122, n. 90, c. 361v.). In the center of the painting was the Blessed Julia in a nun’s habit, accompanied by two angels playing musical instruments, while the two side scenes showed the moment of Julia’s transit – drawn from the tales of Fina and Veridiana, when upon the spontaneous ringing of bells, the people came running and found the blessed woman kneeling in front of the Crucifix in glory – and the exequies of the blessed woman with the participation of the Augustinians but also of the common people and the invalid who implored for their recovery. About 100 years later the painting was furnished with a predella – currently in the church above the niche where the blessed woman’s remains are kept, decorated at the sides by the Tinolfi armorial bearings – that poetically recounts some episodes in the life of the blessed woman: from the Miracle of the Child Saved from Flames to the Miracle of Ever Fresh Flowers that the Blessed Julia gave to the children who came to see her, to the Exequies of the blessed woman, up to the final episode of the Miracle of the horseman, which occured after the Blessed Julia’s death, thanks to whose intercession the horse and rider were saved from drowning.
The small predella, which tradition in the past assigned to Antonia, the Cistercian nun daughter of Paolo Uccello, executed on the model of famous paternal exemplars, is placed chronologically in the last quarter of the 15th century: it has therefore been connected to a particular historical event, the 1486 restitution of the Blessed Julia’s head by King Ferdinand of Aragon, stolen during the 1479 sacking of Certaldo. After some centuries, the head was placed in a reliquary-bust, that can still be admired in the Museum, with a strong physiognomic characterization, which strongly suggests that it may have been a portrait, carried out by the Florentine goldsmith Paolo di Andrea Laurentini in 1652-1653, as archival documents record (ASF, Corporazioni religiose soppresse dal Governo francese, 122, n. 90, c. 361 v.).
Closely tied to the Blessed Julia’s earthly vicissitudes is a 14th century Crucifix of the “Christus Patiens” type (the sorrowful Christ), that was in the Church of Santi Tommaso e Prospero at one time and is currently venerated in the new Church of San Tommaso, in the lower part of the town, called the Borgo.
by Rosanna Caterina Proto Pisani
in, Museo d’arte sacra di Certaldo. Guida alla visita del museo e alla scoperta del territorio, a cura di Rosanna Caterina Proto Pisani, Polistampa 2006