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Scoppio del Carro

By Philippa Burne, UK, June 2011

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The city of Florence loves Easter. They call it the Scoppio del Carro – literally, explosion of the cart. The city turns out to watch this tradition, which originated in the fifteenth century but has its roots in an even older event. During the First Crusade to Jerusalem, a brave Florentine soldier was rewarded with three chips of stone taken from the walls of the Holy Sepulchre of Christ.

During the First Crusade to Jerusalem, a brave Florentine soldier was rewarded with three chips of stone taken from the walls of the Holy Sepulchre of Christ. These came to Florence in 1101 and have traditionally been used to light the first fires of Easter Sunday that restore light and warmth to the city after it doused all its fires in honour of Christ’s death on Good Friday. These chips of stone are now housed in the modest Florentine church of Santi Apostoli. Every Easter they spark a flame which is carried to the magnificent cathedral or Duomo, is blessed and then used to ignite a massive cart of fireworks.

In Christian terms this is in memory of Christ’s resurrection; in its pagan roots, it’s in hope of a good harvest. Before being exploded, the 500 year old cart is dragged by garlanded white oxen from the gate of the city to the square in front of the Duomo accompanied by soldiers, musicians and citizens dressed in medieval costume in a spectacular parade. Once they reach the square outside the famous Baptistry doors, a mechanical dove bearing the flame, lights the fuse and the celebrations of Easter really begin. The fireworks display lasts a good twenty minutes, the church bells ring the whole time, the priest is saying the Gloria of the Easter Mass, and the square is crammed with people. That’s what I call marking Easter with style.

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