Sunday, 28 March 2010

Easter Parade in Florence

Florence – the heart of the Renaissance in Italy – has two wonderful processions on Easter morning. One has an 18th century chariot drawn by two white oxen with gilded hooves and flowers on their heads. The chariot is blue, burgundy and gold and contains flint-stones from the Holy Land. At the end of the procession it is placed in a central position between the Cathedral and the Baptistry and the oxen led away.
At the time of the Resurrection a "dove" (a rocket), which is connected to the chariot, is lit and sets off a deafening explosion. The chariot is full of fire crackers!
This is the "Scoppio del Carro" (explosion of the cart), the roots of which go back centuries. To the times of the First Crusade in 1099. Several Florentine knights, led by Pazzino de' Pazzi, joined Geoffrey of Bouillon on the Crusade to Jerusalem.
It was supposedly de' Pazzi who hoisted the standard of the Cross on the battlements of Jerusalem. He was rewarded with fragments of stone from the Holy Sepulchre. On his return to Florence his family had the privilege of carrying the blessed fire (lit with these precious relics) around the City, on Holy Saturday.
This privilege was withdrawn in 1478 when the family was banished from Florence. They were implicated in a conspiracy to murder Guiliano de' Medici: a particularly horrible crime as it was committed in the Cathedral during Mass.
Now the city fathers are in charge of the mainly symbolic ceremony which is held on Easter Sunday.
Like all ancient traditions, the Scoppio del Carro has good and bad omens. If the fireworks explode as soon as the rocket makes contact then there will be good harvests and prosperity for the City. Everyone cheers. If the explosion isn't immediate the air is filled with groans.
During the rest of the year the chariot is kept in Via del Prato and the flint-stones at the Church of SS. Apostoli.
The other parade is made up of church and civic dignitaries - a wonderful sight with people in colourful medieval costumes. Both processions meet at the Cathedral where entertainment includes the famous flag throwing.

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