Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter Noise (A Lot of It): Easter in Florence

Lo Scoppio del Carro di Fuoco
(“The Explosion of the Cart of Fire”)

I’ve heard stories about this for many years, and I always thought they were half-baked. Thanks to the magic of YouTube and the Internet, it turns out that the stories not only were true, but understated.

Il Brindellone (“The Big Wobbly Thing”)

Easter in Florence begins after sundown on Holy Saturday with the lighting of the Holy Fire at the church of Santi Apostoli. The fire is lit with 3 flints supposedly brought back from Jerusalem during the First Crusade by the first Christian to breach the walls of the city, a young Florentine (naturally) named Pazzino de’ Pazzi (“The Little Crazy of the Crazies”). The flints were donated to Santi Apostoli by Pazzino’s descendents, the Pazzi family (of major-international-banking-power-in-the-Renaissance fame, and conspiracy-to-murder-Lorenzo-the-Magnificent fame).
The Fire is carried in solemn procession to the Baptistery where it is housed for the Easter Mass in the Cathedral the next morning.

On the morning of Easter Sunday, the Florentines haul out this big wagon that is as tall as a 4 story building called the Brindellone, and parade it through the streets of the city to the Cathedral. A team of white oxen pulls it. There’s a reason why the Florentine Fire Department follows the Brindellone besides making a parade appearance. Keep reading and the reason will become clear. This same Brindellone has been used every Easter since the early 16th century.

Here is the arrival of the Brindellone at the Cathedral:

Volo della Colombina (Flight of the “Little Dove”)

After the Brindellone arrives, the Archbishop of Florence comes out to bless the crowds and the Brindellone. The clergy go into the Baptistery and bring out the Holy Fire and process into the Cathedral. The Mass begins, the Archbishop proclaims “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!” The choir sings the Gloria. At the conclusion of the Gloria, a deacon lights a taper from the Paschal Candle and then ……………. well, see what happens:

Madonna Santissima! (“Oh my freakin’ God!)

The rocket-propelled Paraclete is known as La Colombina. It flies out and sets off a mass of fireworks on the Brindellone and then flies back into the Cathedral. Only the Florentines would set off fireworks in church! Only the Florentines could get away with it. They’ve been doing this ceremony in its present form (complete with fireworks) for 500 years and they still have not yet burned down the Cathedral. And through all this, the organist continues to play. What a trooper!

Lo Scoppio (The Explosion)

Here is the Scoppio up close from outside the Cathedral:

Here is the conclusion of last year’s Scoppio ( great crowd reaction here):

Bellissimo indeed!

The Florentines, like all Italians, take their religious spectacles very seriously. These are not tourist shows. The Scoppio is sincerely Christian. It began as, and continues to be, a Christian spectacle (“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord!”). Like most Italian religious spectacles, however, the Scoppio has pre-Christian elements, and still retains a pre-Christian purpose. It is bright lights and loud noises to drive away evil spirits and bad luck. Farmers from all over the region come into Florence on Easter morning and watch the Scoppio carefully. How flawed or flawless the performance of the spectacle supposedly predicts the success of the year’s harvests.
Florentines, like most urban Italians, don’t think anything’s a real party unless it’s out in the street and the whole town is invited (“In Italy, the street is the living room,” so I’ve been told many times). This is a religious ceremony, but it is also very much a party for the whole city.

Finally, here are the Sbandieratori performing early on Easter morning in the Piazza Republica before the arrival of the Brindellone. I love these historical costume pageants. The Italians love dressing up in historical costume and parading around even more than the English do. God bless ‘em! Grazie a Dio for Florentines and tourists and their little cameras!

Luca della Robbia, The Resurrection, from the Cathedral of Florence

Buona Pasqua a Tutti!


susan s. said...

Great stuff! Thanks.

The Scoppio reminds me of a firework we used to get when they were still legal. It was a pagoda. It started out fairly flat, but grew taller as it heated up. I loved watching the fireworks on the Scoppio go further and further up the tower.

The flag men are always fun to watch. They seem so relaxed and yet precise in their movements and results.

it's margaret said...

I gotta go to this!!!! Wonderful! Thank you, and Blessed and glorious Easter!!

JCF said...

Welcome back, Doug---Alleluia, He is Risen! (And thanks for the Joyful Noise!)

Counterlight said...

Thanks JCF! It's great to be back.

Rick+ said...

Holy cats! Now that's what I call new fire!

Göran Koch-Swahne said...


Paul said...

On our walking tour of Florence this morning we stopped at the Church of the Apostles in Limbo Square and viewed the altar where the three flints of Jerusalem are kept. We will be going to Mass at the Duomo tomorrow morning but, because we are both intense crowd-loathers, we will be as far from this event as we can get. Merely walking across the Ponte Vecchio fries all our nerves. When I get home I can enjoy all the videos you provide and shall be content.

Paul said...

I spoke too soon. I was abed with a cold on Easter morn (though we went to Mass that evening) but Bill did get to the edge of the piazza and could see the bishop and clergy on the Duomo steps and at least hear the excitement, though not get close enough to see it. I could not watch the videos in Italy but just did on this, my first full day home. Thank you, Doug. What a treat. If I am ever there on Easter again, I will brave the crowds.