A fascinating church with great views over the town and the surrounding mountains, Barga’s Cathedral contains a real artistic gem: a marble pulpit that alone is worth the trip up hill. This church has a timeless charm and a quietly magnetic atmosphere, its stillness almost tangible.Photo by Ymblanter – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link
The main doorway (12th century), shows two lions guarding the entrance. It seems almost lost in the imposing travertine facade of Barga‘s Cathedral. The tiny, sparse windows and the small flat decorations give the church a slightly severe aspect, whose burly shape is almost fortress-like.
On the left side the remains of the original portal are still visible. A 12th century lintel decorated with one of Saint Nicholas’ (a saint broadly venerated in Medieval times) miracles by the famous Biduino school. The scene shows a banquet, where a young devotee is serving dinner to the Emir who kidnapped him, but the saint saves him by grabbing his hair and bringing him back to his family.
The interior of Barga Cathedral:
Inside it’s pitch dark and you’ll need a 2 Euros coin to turn on the lights. It’s a small price to pay for a view of the pulpit alone. This dates to around 1240 and dripping with symbolism. Supporting the red columns are the two lions who are incredibly lifelike. One is killing a dragon, a symbol of Evil, and the other one is fighting the deceiving Heresy. Notice how with one hand the heretic caresses the lion while stabbing it with the other.
This is one of the most important pulpits pre-Nicola Pisano, the master who worked at Pisa’s Cathedral, revolutionising the art of sculpting.
Notice the capitals and the impressive details in the three dimensional style of the pulpit: on one side a tower-like figure separates the depiction of the “Annunciation” and the “Birth of Christ”. The figures all have rigid and severe bearings, which is typical of the Lombard style. The exception is Mary in the Annunciation, where she has a very shy and retreating expression. The scenes are detailed, with Mary washing the newborn Jesus and the animals warming him with their breath. On the other side is the “Adoration of the Magi“.
This church deserves a bit of time for examination of all its hidden decorations and motifs. Look out from the geometric and leafy motifs. Don’t miss the strange details on the baptismal font and the holy water basins, and the 11th century wooden statue of Saint Cristoforo.