Following the Footsteps of Christ in Late Medieval Italy: Pietro Pettinaio's Vision of St Francis

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The life of Pietro Pettinaio, probably composed in the early fourteenth century, recounts how the beatus had a vision in Siena cathedral in which he saw angels scatter a line of ashes on the pavement. Christ walked along it, leaving his footprints, followed by a series of saints. After the majority had almost obliterated the imprints, St Francis was able to find and walk in them exactly, showing him to be the most Christ-like. This article explores the way in which likeness is expressed in Pettinaio’s vision, presenting it as innovative and radical. The ephemeral, visionary imprints occupy a place of tension between the verbal and the material, more specifically between the metaphor of following someone’s footsteps and the treatment of permanent Christological and saintly vestigia, which were protected from being trodden on. It is argued that the events of the vision were not only enabled by the identity claimed for Francis by his followers, who saw the saint as alter Christus—another Christ, but were also informed by the contemporary associations of the floor surface, including the cross of ashes drawn on the pavement during the rite of church dedication, and the potential of liturgical markers to express shared identities. The final part of this article considers why the vision could be described in words but not represented visually, with reference to the iconography of trampling.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)163-180
Number of pages19
JournalWord and Image
Issue number2
Early online date22 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016

Structured keywords

  • Centre for Medieval Studies


  • Pietro Pettinaio
  • St Francis
  • footprints
  • vision
  • likeness


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