The Statue Stele

If you ask where Lungiana’s borders are located, prepare yourself to endure a never-ending academic discussion: someone says they are from Levanto to Montignoso, while others affirm that they are only located in the high Magra Valley, someone else doesn’t even contemplate this area and only considers a small bit of the Garfagnana territory. There are so many things of uncertain definition in this land (not only borders, but also dialects and  traditional recipes that change name from one valley to the other) but there is one thing that is truly and evenly spread all throughout Lunigiana: the enigmatic face of the Statue Menhir.


The meaning of these votive statues carved thousands of years before Christ is still subject of discussions. In the last two centuries people have unearthed a several dozen of them: after WWII, in Lunigiana it seemed that anyone who dug enough or moved a bit of soil would find Statue Menhirs, enigmatic figures of warriors and curvaceous women. Large groups were found in Minucciano, in Filattiera, near Romanesque churches that were perhaps built where more ancient cults once found their sacred grounds, such as Santo Stefano’s Parish in Sorano, and in Filetto, where eleven statues were uncovered at the shade of a millenial chestnut forest, the so called Selva di Filetto.


The most endorsed interpretation states that Statue Menhirs represent ancestors or divinities, a sort of tutelary deity of the area, whose cult was worshiped from Lunigiana’s mountains and valleys up to the tip of the coast. The oldest specimens present a semicircular head, no neck and their shape is similar to today’s memorial stones. More recent ones have a thin neck, the female types sometimes feature a necklace, exhibiting a crescent-shaped head, similar to an old Carabinieri’s hat. The most recent carvings are more elaborate and they display precise anatomical characters in three-dimensional Ronde-bosse technique: they are not only stems, but real statues.

We do not know much about these mysterious objects for they were carved in a period when writing didn’t exist: we only know that Statue Menhirs were arranged in woods and pastures – perhaps outdoor sanctuaries – where they were subject of popular piety for centuries, even when their cult had long-vanished. It seems incredible but throughout the millennia Statue Menhirs never ceased to be present among the people of Lunigiana: in 752 the lombard Leodegar boasted in his epitaph that he was the one who put a stop to the celebration of pagan idols (this tells us that at the time Statue Menhirs were still widespread and honored), in the same period there was a rebirth and revival in their use. What better way, for devout Christians of those centuries, to humiliate the pagan gods than reusing Statue Menhirs in their churches? Used as supports, stairs, ambos or lintels, they became an integral part of the Lunigiana’s parishes. One is still nestled in the churchyard wall of Campoli, not far from Mulazzo.

In the late Nineteenth Century, Statue Menhirs were removed from the churches where they watched over the inhabitants of Lunigiana, to be gathered in museums and gain the attention of a new type of faithful audience: tourists, school groups, culture lovers. However, they are still well spread throughout the Lunigiana territory, even though they are no longer surrounded by chestnut groves and the Magra River’s lush valleys. The crescent-shaped profile of one of these mysterious stone types can be counted among the important logos of Lunigiana: the signs of taverns, restaurants, businesses and shopping centers show off this ancient shape that archaeologists have cataloged as Verrucola. It has become the official logo for a local food company, which produces testaroli and other local delicacies. It is not too hard to find gift shops selling small reproductions and inspired souvenirs.

You may visit the Statue Stele’s exhibition at the Piagnaro Castle in Pontremoli from tuesday to sunday from 9 to 12.30 AM and from 2.30 to 5.30 PM [winter opening time]

Looking forward to visiting the forthcoming Museum set at the Piagnaro Castle, coming soon in Pontremoli (hopefully at the end of May).



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