When talking about murals, we often think about meaningless, simple scribbles and doodles on walls: just an act of vandalism that has nothing to do with art. Nothing could be more wrong. Murals can have a lot to communicate and they can have a great artistic value. The best example is that of Lizzano. However, to understand exactly the feelings and the motivations that made Lizzano “il paese dei Murales” (the Town of the Murals) we need to take a step back in time. Lizzano, like many other towns of the Pistoia Mountains, had first-hand experience of the suffering and cruelty of the Second World War and it was the site of occupation first by the German soldiers and then by the Allied ones.
The birth of the murals can be traced back to when, in the winter of 1945, Sergeant John Murphy landed on the port of Livorno with his regiment. He commanded a company of soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division until he reached Lizzano: on the evening of 15 January, it began to snow abundantly so he ordered his men to settle down, in search of shelter. The sergeant, a Catholic, as he hurried to demonstrate to the parish priest after the initial protests, was struck by the beauty of the church and, in particular, by the crucifix by Baccio da Montelupo and the lamp of the Blessed Sacrament. He formed a strong friendship with the priest and during the time spent in Lizzano he helped the community with numerous good and charitable works. Slowly, the front moved north and the sergeant was forced to take his men away from the quiet Lizzano. He went away leaving the inhabitants of the town a beautiful memory, but the country left him much more. Seeing him so devout and kind, the parish priest invited him to become a priest, as if he had seen the sergeant’s true vocation. Despite the initial surprise, the sergeant followed his advice and once he came back to the United States, he enrolled at Harvard University and graduated in Theology and Philosophy. Therefore, his career, which led him to be a priest friend of various presidents of the United States and even of John Paul II, unexpectedly began in Lizzano.
Forty years after his departure, Sergeant Murphy returned to Lizzano with some of his comrades in an initiative for the purpose of remembering and, above all, of celebrating peace. On that occasion, the Florentine artists of the Donatello Group were called to realise the first works to decorate the town, which were all initially focused on themes of brotherhood and spirituality.
However, the works did not finish on that occasion. Little by little, thanks to the continuous work of Florentine artists, of the inhabitants of Lizzano and the municipal administration, new murals with different themes were always added. Nowadays, the murals tell us not only about peace and faith but also about themes that are more closely linked to mountain life such as flora, fauna, sports and ancient crafts.