Easter in Florence – Scoppio del Carro
Florence is a beautiful city any time of the year. It has just about everything you could want from a vacation destination, good food, great wines, art, culture, fashion and literature. This antique city is rich in tradition and Easter is no different. The “Scoppio del Carro” reminds the Florentines of their past military prowess and deep religious roots dating back to the birth of the Catholic church.
The “Scoppio del Carro”, exploding cart, dates back to the times of the first crusade to the holy lands, 1099 AD. This crusade was to liberate the holy sepulture from the pagans. Goffredo di Buglione, Duke of “bassa Lorena”, laid siege to the city. Pazzino dei Pazzi was the first soldier to climb the city walls and held the Dukes banner for all to see. For this act of courage the Duke rewarded the soldier with 3 pieces of rock from Christ’s tomb.
Upon returning to Florence in 1101, the captain was greatly honored. Originally the relics were held in the church Santa Maria Sopra a Porta in Mercato Nuovo, later transferred the church San Biagio until it was closed in 1785. The relics were then transferred to the church Santi Apostoli where they still are protected today.
Originally on the Saturday before Easter Sunday, the Bishop would light a fire with sparks from the holy rocks, torches would then be carried throughout the city lighting a fire in every home. The burning flame would purify the home and those who dwelled there.
Over the years the celebration became more elaborate and festive. In the 1300s the torches were substitutes with a cart that would carry the holy fire in procession through the city. Shortly thereafter the fire became a fireworks display. The rights to lighting the celebration and the entire cost were on the Pazzi family. Since the cart would be nearly destroyed every year by the fires and fireworks, in 1494, the family decided to build an indestructible cart. This cart is still in use today, even though it has been restored several times in the past 500 years.
Presently, on Easter morning, the parade begins in piazzale del Prato. Pulled two white bulls, the cart is accompanied by military personnel, the city’s band, and the flag team of the “Calcio Storico Fiorentino”, the group Historic Soccer of Florence. The cart, named the “Brindellone”, moves through the streets of the city to the piazza del Duomo, between the “Battistero” and the Cathedral. The bulls are quickly moved away from the cart and a wire is drawn from the center of the choir to the cart.
While the cart is being prepared, the procession begins in piazzale del Limbo where the standards of the city of Florence and of the Pazzi family parade with religious and civic leaders to the Battistero where the Mass will be held. After Mass, at exactly 11:00, the choir begins singing “Excelsis Deo” and the dove, actually a rocket make to look like a dove, is lit. The screaming rocket flies along the wire to the cart and, if all goes well, the fireworks begin.
The cart is a mass of exploding bombs and rockets firing into the air. This symbolizes carrying the fire to the entire city, blessing and purifying the homes of Florence. Smoke envelopes the cart and the entire square as a kaleidoscope of colors pour from all sides of the cart.
The celebration of “Scoppio del Carro” is an attraction that brings tens of thousands of people to Florence every year from all over the world. It is an example of how culture and history are absorbed by the inhabitants of an area creating a link between the past and the present. Who we are, our faith, our paganism, our wars, our hopes, and our humanity are all rolled up into an Easter celebration, this is an appointment not to miss.
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