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Scoppio del carro

Every 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.


Picture by Sandro Santioli

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