Once upon a time in a village on the western slope of a mountain spur at 1000 meters above sea level, looking up toward Mt. Giovo and down over the Ania valley, there were beasts quietly grazing in the fields. Potatoes, grains, and other staples grew on the sunny terraced acres. Chestnut trees produced their precious fruit by the ton, which was milled into flour at several nearby mills. Water flowed in abundance from Monte Giovo in streams into the Torrente Ania down to the Serchio River and into the sea at Viareggio.
Villagers and visitors traveled from farm to village on foot or by mule on well trod tracks. The village thrived. Winter snow came early, but prepared and well stocked, the large families of up to ten children, stayed put and kept warm by the hearth in their solidly built stone houses. The area was known as Localita Bacchionero. The year was 1784.
Something was missing. During the long cold winter they missed the anchor of their faith and spiritual grounding, the church they could not reach.
The enlightenment had captured the imagination of European rulers and intellectuals. Pietro Leopoldo led reforms in Tuscany, one of the two most advanced Italian states.
It was in this year that the landowner, Dottor Anton Filippo Bertacchi, of the noble family of Barga, whose vast holdings were administered from the grand Palazzo Bertacchi, now known as Casa Cordati in via di Mezzo at Barga, was given verbal permission by the Archbishop of Lucca to build a church for his villagers at Bacchionero. And a grand church it was for such a remote site. It could hold sixty seated or up to eighty including standing room, seeking spiritual peace, serenity, quietude, safety and security. It served sixteen small villages from Tiglio to Coreglia Antelminelli.
The church is dedicated to San Lorenzo, the patron of faith and charity, whose saint’s day is celebrated on August 10.
One hundred and seventy nine years later, on August 10, 1963, High Mass was celebrated by the young, fit, Don Giuseppe Cola of the parish of San Giusto of Tiglio for the last time of his four year tenure of Bacchionero, which he reached on foot from Tiglio Alto, even in the winter months.
Fast forward fifty years to August 10, 2013. An older, but still fit, Don Giuseppe Cola presided at Mass for 100 enthusiastic parishioners, who arrived on foot from many surrounding communities, at a makeshift but solid altar of stones amidst of the ruins of the stone houses and the church, in remembrance of a way of life established over two hundred and twenty nine years earlier at Bacchionero.
The remains of the church rest in a clearing, but the area is now dominated by the misguided implantation of the Douglas Fir. The fields and terraces have been rendered unworkable, left in the acrid shadow of this noble looking but invasive conifer. However, they contribute a sense of grandeur and solitude.
Enzo Togneri, of Coreglia Antelminelli, called it the lieu of lost prayers.
Although a way of life has been lost, still, above Coreglia and Barga, there is a place of spiritual peace, serenity, quietude, safety and security in the forest as there once was in its stately church in the woods.
Article by Kerry Bell