The church of Santa Lucia a Paterno is located along the road that descends to the castle of Vinci from the ridge of Montalbano, near the tower of Sant'Alluccio, crossing the hamlet of Anchiano, the place where tradition sets the birthplace of Leonardo da Vinci. The current forms of the building correspond to the 18th-century reconstruction, but the church had much more ancient origins. At the beginning of the 13th century, it still belonged to the powerful Guidi family, who controlled the castles of Larciano, Cerreto Guidi, and Vinci this area in the 11th century. The church is easily reached along one of the "Paths of the Genius", a walk through the vineyards and olive groves that must have been so familiar to Leonardo's eyes.
The first mention of the church of Paterno dates back to 1254, found in a document for the sale of most of the assets that the Counts Guidi possessed in this area, from Empoli to the Greti area, on Montalbano. The exponents of the various branches into which the family was divided, as early as the first decades of the 13th century, gave the city of Florence, each for its own part, the different shares of castles, churches, and other possessions. The church of Paterno, however, must belonged entirely to Count Guido di Romena: at the time of the sale, in fact, it was sold in one single block ("totam ecclesiam de Paterno cum suis pertinentiis"), together with the fourth part of the castle of Vinci, of the castle church of Santa Croce, of Sant'Alluccio, and of other properties. The current church is the result of a reconstruction, but a drawing of it on the map of the Capitani di Parte Guelfa pertaining to the community of Santa Lucia a Paterno renters the idea of the appearance it must have had at the time of the Counts Guidi: a small, single-room rural church with a simple gabled roof.
The title of Saint Lucia is mentioned only in the 14th century, when the church, with the castle of Vinci, was by this point part of the contado of the city of Florence. At that time, as we read in the statutes of Vinci, the rector of the church of Santa Lucia a Paterno had the task of keeping a copy of the keys of the case that housed, in the castle, the bags for the election of municipal offices. The church was in a strategic position with respect to the territory managed, for the City of the Lily, by the rural village of Vinci. A second copy of the keys was kept in the castle church and the last two in the churches of Santo Amato and San Bartolomeo a Streda. Within the territory of the community of Vinci was also the church of San Lorenzo di Arniano, also of ancient origin, which in the 17th century was annexed to the church of Paterno.
The church of Santa Lucia a Paterno at the time of Leonardo was at the center of the small community that lived in the area just upstream of Vinci, to the northeast, on the hills that descend from the ridge of Montalbano. In the community of Santa Lucia a Paterno, the da Vinci family owned several properties. Also included was the farm of Anchiano, which a long-standing local tradition identifies as the house where Leonardo was born. The rural building of Anchiano, which various works of restoration have returned to their 16th-century appearance, was certainly owned by the da Vinci family for more than a century. One of Leonardo's half-brothers, Guglielmo da Vinci, lived in this house until his death. He was buried in the church of Santa Lucia di Paterno, as requested in his will, which he dictated in the house of Anchiano in 1542. The church of Santa Lucia di Paterno was therefore the church of this branch of the da Vinci family, and possessed, at that time, a small cemetery. It was small in size, had a bell tower with two bells, and must have counted three altars inside, one of which was dedicated to San Lorenzo, adorned with the canvas originating from San Lorenzo in Arniano.
Don Quirino Giani, parish priest of Santa Lucia a Paterno between the end of the 19th century and the early 20th century, and a lover of memories relating to Leonardo, was a great supporter of the hypothesis that the small church had been the parish of the young Leonardo, given the great proximity with the house of Anchiano, already considered the birthplace of Da Vinci. The notes and documents of his research, collected under the title of La terra natia di Leonardo (Leonardo's native land), were donated by the heirs in 1958 to the librarian of the Biblioteca Leonardiana, Renzo Cianchi, and today constitute the Quirino Giani Collection. The church of Santa Lucia actually became a place traditionally linked with the memory of Leonardo, to the point that it was even the subject of a restoration during the Leonardian celebrations of 1952. We can imagine the church Leonardo da Vinci probably visited as being very similar to that represented on the map of the Capitani di Parte Guelfa for the community of Santa Lucia a Paterno, dated to the last quarter of the 16th century. It must have been a small rural church with a single room and a gabled roof, with a small bell gable.
The church that was the parish of a branch of the da Vinci family from the beginning of the 16th century was destroyed in 1735 by the collapse of the bell tower, weakened by numerous lightning strikes. It was rebuilt in a short time thanks to the intervention of the Baldacci family, who assumed patronage from that time, as announced on the marble plaque placed above the portal. The building was rebuilt a few meters from its original site, using the building material from the ruin struck by lightning. The current structure, in fact, is made up of rough blocks of local stone, compatible with the more ancient fabric. The church appears as a single hall, on a rectangular plan, with a raised tribune and barrel-vaulted roof. The choir houses an altarpiece depicting the martyrdom of Saint Lucia dating back to the time of the reconstruction of the church, as does also the vault decorated with a fresco depicting the coronation of the Virgin. The main altar is adorned with a 19th-century wooden crucifix, while the left altar is dedicated to San Lorenzo, in memory of the one existing in the old church of Paterno, which was decorated by the painting coming from San Lorenzo in Arniano. The canvas, now lost, depicted San Lorenzo and the Virgin and Child, and was defined as "magnificent, seeming to be by Ghirlandaio". These places can be visited making use of the walks of the so-called "Paths of the Genius".
Silvia Leporatti / English translation by John Venerella