Occasionally when you travel you just get lucky! Such was the case on Easter morning, while visiting Florence in celebration of my 40th birthday, when we decided to attend service at the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.
After arriving 45 minutes early to the famous pink, white, and green marble Duomo, we found ourselves comfortably seated and awed by the 15th century dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi which is decorated with the Last Judgment frescoes designed of Giorgio Vasari and painted by Frederico Zucarri between 1572 to 1579. As we settled into our surroundings, we began to prepare our hearts for the celebration of Easter.
The clergy were dressed in their finest white and gold robes. The liturgy, even though spoken in Latin, was meaningful. The organ music, triumphant. Towards the end of the service the large double doors leading into the Duomo were opened by colorfully dressed men. The audience stirred, murmuring to one another, while all turning to face the doors but not moving from their seats – at that point you knew “something” was about to happen. And then, all of a sudden, a wooden dove missile flew underneath Brunelleshi’s dome – fireworks bursting out of his tail feathers which thrust him across the large interior on a thin wire! It was STUNNING. The crowd began to applaud and exclaim as the sound of fireworks began from the courtyard of the duomo. I will never forget the site of the dove missile flying across the interior of the Duomo – it was unexpected and it was a magical moment!
Unbeknownst to us, the Scappio del Carro (the “Explosion of the Cart”) is an Easter tradition dating back 350 years. The event celebrates the Holy Land crusade in 1099 of a Florentine from the noble Pazzi family. Upon returning home, Pazzino Pazzi brought back three flints from the Holy Sepulchre. Today, the three flints are rubbed together until they spark to light the Easter candle which is used to light coals placed in a container on the Cart (containing the fireworks).
The Cart (built in 1622 and standing almost 3-stories tall) of fireworks is pulled by a pair of garland bedecked oxen past the Baptistery of St. John to the doors of the Duomo. A procession of drummers, flag throwers, and figures dressed in historical costumes accompany the cart to deliver the Holy Fire to the Archbishop of Florence while a crowd of mostly Florentine people look on. The Archbishop uses the Holy Fire to light the dove missile which shoots into the Duomo. The coals in the cart are ignited which fuels the explosion of the fireworks.
After the fireworks the mostly Italian crowd began to disperse. As we emerged from the Duomo into the piazza, the cart had been removed leaving only the paper remnants of the fireworks, the oxen’s shredded garlands, and disposed flowers from locals observing the festivities. The colorfully dressed drummers and flag throwers were slowly leaving the piazza as they visited with friends and family.
Note: This could be a premium for members: Check out this video of the Scoppio del Carro video experience in front of the Duomo.
Mary Beth I have a passion for creating and experiencing unforgettable moments and sharing those with others. I hope that this story has helped you experience one of those moments.