The Palio della Mannaja or Axe Festival is a historical re-enactment that takes place every year in Pietralunga in the month of August, more precisely on the second Sunday of the month.
The Palio is the most important historical event in the town, it recalls an event that really happened in Pietralunga on 11 September 1334, when Giovanni di Lorenzo of Picardy on his way to a pilgrimage to Lucca passed through the territory of Pietralunga, where he was wrongly accused of murdering a man and sentenced to death. Shortly before the execution, the unfortunate man turned confidently to the Holy Face and when the executioner tried to cut off his head with an axe, something miraculous happened: the cutting edge of the blade turned to the opposite side.
There are many witnesses to this fact including a letter signed by Branca de’ Branci, who was the Podestà (i.e. Mayor) of Pietralunga, and the same axe used in the execution that is kept in the Cathedral of Lucca hanging near the Chapel of the Holy Face as evidence of the miracle that occurred in Pietralunga.
Today one can admire the axe in front of the Chapel of the Holy Face, on the right column, in the Cathedral of Lucca, where the visitor can also admire the bas-relief of the “axe that does not offend an innocent”.Just below the bas-relief, we find a commemorative marble plaque recalling the miracle, one of manyperformed by the Holy Face, and stating the following:
“Stop for a moment and admire the prodigy. In the year of the Lord 1334 Giovanni di Lorenzo begged with prayer for help to this holy cross, the blade raised for his death keeps him alive and makes him innocent: since he had been falsely accused of murder, his throat promptly subjected to the blade three times, and the blade softens to save him. It must be learned that innocence can obtain miracles.”
Now, 650 years later, the axe kept in the Cathedral of Lucca is a perennial reminder of what happened that day.
On the Saturday evening before the Palio, the historical re-enactment of the miracle takes place. But the most exciting moment is on the Sunday afternoon with the traditional race of the “Biroccio”, a very heavy cart used throughout the Middle Ages to transport those sentenced to death. Four hundred and thirty kilograms pushed by hand by the representatives of the 5 town districts: Borgo de Sopra, Borgo de Sotto, Quartiere del Monte, Quartiere delle Valcelle and Quartiere del Piscianale. Whoever makes it in the shortest possible time wins. It is avery exciting race.
The whole week of the Palio is full of events for concert, theatre, music and folklore lovers who can relive the miracle through its re-enactment, enjoy the Biroccio Race, take part in the traditional Palio dinner, admire the flag wavers and drummers parade as well as the town historical procession. Moreover, during the whole weekend, the streets of the town centre come to life with taverns, inns, and workshops where the visitor can admire and buy local handicraft products, and where food lovers can taste traditional local dishes and enjoy the welcoming atmosphere of the town of Pietralunga.