by Giovanni Caselli

San Frediano devia le acque del Serchio (Galleria degli Uffizi)

One of the earliest Celtic evangelists to land on the continent was Finnian Scotus, the future San Frediano of Lucca, to use his Italian name. The legend goes that Finnian of Cairbre was the son of the king of Ulster, he was born in 500, and was consecrated a bishop in 565.

Finnian, like many other pious men of the British Isles, wanted to go to Rome to procure a book, a copy of the Bible in St. Jerome’s translation. And so he walked the whole length of Britain, where it operated several miracles. Finnian crossed the Channel and took the Via Romea to reach Rome, where Pelagius I reigned on the throne of St Peter. The Scottish nobleman remained in St. John Lateran for three months where he was instructed in ecclesiastical disciplines. The book reached Ireland where Finnian was the Abbot of Moville in County Down, where he was also the tutor of St. Columbanus.

Basilica di San Freduano – Lucca

Finnian returned to Rome late in life and passing along the Via Romea, as a pilgrim, decided to stay in Lucca long enough to pay homage to the graves of the martyrs in the Basilica of Santa Paolina, called ” The Saints Cell”. Then climbed the Monte Pisano, where several caves had been converted into hermitages by other Scoti from Ireland. It so happened that at this time the bishop of Lucca died, thus the people of the old Roman city turned to the holy hermits of Mount Pisano to find a new bishop. Pope John II, at the request of the people of Lucca, appealed to Finnian to become their bishop.

Mosaico della facciata della Basilica

It was so that Finnian, now named Frigidianus (Italian: Frediano ), came to be bishop in San Giovanni and Reparata, the baptismal church of Lucca. The Lombards plundered Lucca in the seventh year of Frediano’s archbishopric, also destroying the ancient basilica. After the war, Frediano endeavoured to rebuild the city walls and to restore the baptismal church. He converted the Lombard leaders who had settled in Lucca, continuing to baptize and to work miracles of healing.

It is at this stage in the life of Frediano that the river Auxer (Serchio) broke its banks. Due to continuous flooding, thus Frediano and the people of Lucca decided to dig a new river bed from the Moriano Bridge along the foothill of Castel Moriano, Spardaco, Monte San Quirico and then St. Peter’s Bridge, later called Porsanpieri. From here the river went in the direction of Nozzana and Ripafratta. This colossal work could only be accomplished with the help of a holy man in God’s grace.

Interno della Basilica di San Frediano

St Gregory I, in the third book of his “Dialogues” wrote: “It will not pass in silence what I was told by the Venerable Venancio, Bishop of Luni. He says that in a city not far from his lived a bishop named Frediano, who had wonderful powers, and of whom the people remember this great miracle. The Auxer the river that ran under the city walls, often violently broke its banks, causing serious damage to the countryside. The inhabitants of Lucca tried several times to change the course of the river but without success. Finally a man of God, Frediano, asked for a small rake and going where the river broke its embankment knelt in prayer. He then rose to his feet and commanded the river to follow him as he walked dragging the rake. The river followed the track of the rake, until a new bed was established and the river ceased to flood the areas around Lucca.”

It was the year 588 and Frediano died on March 30th, having worked many miracles and having founded 28 baptismal churches.