Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter! With a Lot of Noise From Florence

Time for Lo Scoppio del Carro del Fuoco (the Explosion of the Cart of Fire).
Nobody does Easter quite like the Florentines.

This ceremony in its present form is about 400 years old.  It goes back almost a thousand years in earlier forms.  An earlier form of the ceremony from the 15th century had the New Fire ride the Carro to churches around town all day lighting their candles and then finally park in front of the Cathedral.  A mechanical dove on a wire flew out, took the flame into the Cathedral and lit all the candles on the altar, and flew back out to the Carro and ignited concealed fireworks.  Gunpowder found its way west out of China and became part of the ceremony around the end of the 14th century.

Here is the spectacular prelude.  The choir begins singing the Gloria of the Easter Mass and then a taper is lit from the Paschal candle.  And then ... La Columbina happens.

Here is the Carro being drawn by 4 oxen into position in front of the Cathedral.  The Florentines used this same Carro every Easter since the 17th century.

The procession into the huge Cathedral on Easter last year.
I saw something similar when I attended Corpus Christi mass in Florence Cathedral in 1988.  The choir did their thing in the apse while something completely different happened at the other end of the nave.  Then as now, the cathedral was jam packed with people, standing room only.
Here, the Archbishop makes his entrance followed by the city banner, and I presume the mayor.  In the Corpus Christi Mass I attended in 1988, while the choir sang Vespers in the other end of the cathedral, the city banner arrived in the nave with trumpets and drums.  The mayor followed and worked the crowds in the cathedral, waving and smiling, shaking hands, and kissing babies like politicians the world over.   The mayor that year was a Communist.  Only in Italy folks.
The mayor last year here seems much more subdued.

By local tradition, the New Fire for the Florentine Easter rites is lit from historic flints preserved in the church of Santi Apostoli, one of the city's oldest.
Priests carry the flame in procession to the Baptistery opposite the Cathedral.  From there, it is carried into the Cathedral the following morning.

Meanwhile, the Carro pulled by 4 white oxen parades through the streets of Florence followed closely by the Florentine fire department.

And this being Italy, people think nothing of stopping the procession so folks can take family photos.
I think these might be rural folk from the surrounding countryside.  Farmers from all over the region come to Florence on Easter morning to see the Scoppio.  They believe that the success of the Scoppio predicts planting and harvest for the coming year.  Like most Italian religious spectacles, there is a lot of pre-Christian content and associations.  What is now a joyful noise unto the Lord started out as light and noise to chase away harm and misfortune.

I tend to take an indulgent view of these ancient religious spectacles.  What harm do they do really?  People have a great time no matter what their religious views are.  In very secular Europe, people take their piety out of mothballs once a year and enjoy a show that they can count on every year.  It's vulgar messy fun that celebrates the return of spring, the victory of life over death.

Our age of money is filled with spectacles that are far bigger and more dazzling than anything the Florentines can stage.  And yet, they all ring as false and hollow as Justin Bieber's machismo or Donald Trump's hairpiece.  There's a reason why spectacles like the Scoppio will outlast commercial spectacles that quickly turn into yesterday's fish.  No one is out to sell us anything.  No one really cares who we are or what we believe, just that the show goes off without a hitch.

I think we should remember the Scoppio and all the fun people have with it whenever we feel tempted to regard the once-a-year church visitors with patronizing contempt.  Showing them welcome and a good time might be a good way to keep them coming every year, and maybe to come more often.

And wouldn't you know it, today's Scoppio is already posted:

Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!

Fra Angelico, The Resurrection, fresco from a cell in the Dominican monastery of San Marco in Florence

Buona Pasqua a Tutti!


Nuncle said...

Oh, those oxen with their springtime bonnets—magnificent! Joyous Easter!

JCF said...

Who could object to this?! Nevermind---I don't want to know about such fuddy-duddies...

Happy Easter, He is Risen, Alleluia!

MarkBrunson said...

Prettiest. Siege-engine. EVER!!!!

And I see our old schmuck is back under a new name, but still the same sad ol' Brad.

Counterlight said...

Brad's been sent back under his rock. He'll be back. He's my biggest fan. Nobody else goes to such trouble to evade my spam blocker.

A blessed and happy Easter to Brad!

MarkBrunson said...

Oh, I think Brad's so sad because he can't express his real feelings for you, because he's afraid it'll lose him his GOP man-privileges.

I've long believed he was closet-of-the-century.

Counterlight said...

What a nauseating thought.