Saturday, April 7, 2012

Florence: Easter

The Scoppio del Carro (Explosion of the Cart)

I've posted on this before, so this will be an update for this year.

The city of Florence celebrates Easter with a loud and spectacular ceremony on Easter morning that, in its present form, goes back about 600 years, in other forms back about a thousand years.

The ceremony begins on Saturday night with Easter Vigil in one of Florence's oldest churches, Santi Apostoli.

The ceremony begins on Saturday night during the Easter Vigil. The New Fire is lit from a set of flints housed in Santi Apostoli which local legend says came from Jerusalem. For centuries the flints belonged to the Pazzi family, the same ones involved in a certain conspiracy. The founder of the dynasty, Pazzino dei Pazzi (the Little Crazy of the Crazies) brought the flints back from the First Crusade, supposedly from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
A night time procession from Santi Apostoli carries the New Fire to the Florence Baptistery where it resides over night.

The following morning, the Florentines roll out a huge 4 story high structure called the Brindellone ("The Big Wobbly Thing"), hitch it up to a team of 4 oxen and parade it to the cathedral.

Here is the Brindellone wrapped in plastic on a rainy Easter last year arriving in front of the Cathedral and the Baptistery. There's a reason why the Florence Fire Department is so conspicuous here.

A long procession out of the Baptistery carries the New Fire into the Cathedral. The Archbishop of Florence blesses the Brindellone, its crew, and all the participants in the ceremony. Meanwhile, the Brindellone is prepared for its big part on Easter morning.

As the Brindellone is prepared, s'bandieri entertain the crowd with their flag juggling. You can't have any kind of parade in Tuscany without s'bandieri.

Another view of the s'bandieri doing their show while the Brindellone is prepared.

Meanwhile in the Cathedral, Easter Mass is taking place. When the choir concludes the singing of the Gloria, a deacon lights a taper from the Paschal Candle and then ...

It is remarkable that the Florentines have yet to burn down their Cathedral.

Like all Italian religious spectacles, there is a lot of pre-Christian content in the Scoppio. Long before it was a Joyful Noise Unto the Lord, it was noise and bright lights to scare away evil spirits, death, and misfortune. Farmers from all around the region come into Florence to watch the Scoppio and watch it very carefully. They believe that if the ceremony does not come off perfectly, then it means a bad harvest in the fall. They are especially concerned that the 3 little banners at the top of the Brindellone pop out at the end (they don't always).

Some people, especially Americans, point out to the Florentines the numerous pre-Christian survivals in their religious practices like this one. The Florentine response is usually "e allora?" (So what?).

The Scoppio is also testimony to the enduring vitality of Florence's medieval culture out of which the Renaissance emerged. It never ceases to amaze me that this small city could have so large an impact on the world, and in 3 centuries produce so much to fill the world's museums and libraries. Perhaps it was that tension between emerging modernity in the rise of individualism, the early capitalist economy, political enfranchisement, and humanism against the backdrop of a still strong and vital medieval culture that accounts for the city's remarkable creativity.

While the city may no longer be the world leader that it once was, it is today a major center of the Italian high tech industry and education. As it always has, Florence continues to build the future without forgetting its past.

And here they are putting the Brindellone away for next year.

Buona Pasqua a tutti!

Andrea della Robbia, Resurrection

All that is old shall be made new again. All that is dead shall live again. The flesh is made glorious by the spirit. The spirit is made compassionate by living in the flesh. May we and all whom we love return again like the spring.


it's margaret said...

And a blessed Pascha to you Doug!

Counterlight said...

Thanks Margaret, and I hope spring is on its way out there in North Dakota.

Paul said...

I may yet get to witness it. Last Easter Bill was close enough only to see the Bishop blessing everything from the steps and I lay in bed that morning, exhausted and with a cold. Missed all the excitement, though we did get to Mass in the Cathedral that evening. It was a gray day for sure. No idea when the next trip to Florence will be but trust there will be one. Thanks for sharing this, Doug. A blessed Great Fifty days to you!

MarkBrunson said...

So the Italians have juggernaut as well!