Easter Sunday, one of the city's oldest and most atmospheric ceremonies,
attended by thousands of people, takes place in front of Firenze Cathedral
- the Scoppio del Carro, or 'Explosion of the Cart'.
The ceremony is thought to be related to the cult of fire transmitted
from ancient pagan to Christian culture. From very early
times it was the custom to light a holy candle which was then taken in
procession from the church of Santa Maria Sopra Porta to the Baptistery.
From the year 850 onwards, Pope Leo IV ordered that on Holy Saturday
lighted torches should be distributed to all the worshippers.
One of the men participating in the First Crusade (promoted by
Pope Urban II) was Pazzino de' Pazzi, who after the conquest of Jerusalem
brought back to Firenze as a reliquary some stone splinters from the
Holy Sepulchre. These were subsequently used to light the holy candle,
which marked the opening of the religious ceremony.
For centuries the Pazzi family were responsible for lighting
the Easter flame and organizing the Carro - the cart - until the
middle of the 19th century, when the main line of the family died
out. Since then the city council has been responsible for the event.
It's not known precisely when the cart, known to the Florentines
as i' Brindellone because of its size and tower-shape, was
first introduced, but it is known that it originally contained a large
tub of flaming firebrands which were distributed to worshippers gathered
in front of the Cathedral. There is clear evidence that this custom
existed at the end of the 15th century and it's also known that from the
end of the following century Catherine wheels and fireworks also began
to be a feature. The 16th century also saw the introduction of
the Colombina - the dove - into the ceremony.
In 1765 the Pazzi family donated a new cart to the city
following the destruction of the old one.
Even now, at the beginning of the third millennium, the cart arrives
in Piazza del Duomo on the morning of Easter Sunday drawn by a
pair of white oxen and accompanied by a lively procession of trumpeters,
flag-wavers and other people in traditional costume.
The scoppio or 'explosion' takes place at twelve o'clock precisely,
following a ceremony that begins several hours earlier in the church
of SS. Apostoli. The priest takes the ancient flints brought back
from Jerusalem by Pazzino de' Pazzi and rubs them together
to produce sparks to light the Easter candle, which in turn is
used to light coals in a "fire holder".
These coals are then handed over by the civic authorities
to the archbishop, who celebrates Mass at the high altar of the cathedral.
While the Gloria is being sung, the archbishop lights the
fuse of a rocket that has the appearance of a white dove; this runs the
length of the Cathedral on a steel cable, exits into the piazza and hits
the cart, which then explodes, releasing clouds of smoke and setting off
Catherine wheels and crackers.
According to popular legend, if there is some snag or obstacle
in the flight of the dove, the next harvest will be a meagre one.
To guarantee that the show goes off successfully, a fireman
hides inside the cart and, if the dove plays up, lights the
fuse of the first cracker.