Love in the time of Epiphany

This day, January 6, produced one of my favorite moments during our stay. Epiphany in Florence features a pageant with hundreds of individuals in medieval costumes representing nobility, the military, and the city’s major industries.

The official party, seated on the chairs on the Duomo steps, included church officials, local dignitaries, and representatives of regional organizations. Pride of place went to three Roman Catholic priests, all in black cassocks, with colorful hats signifying their status. Ennio Cardinal Antonelli wore red, the bishop violet, and the monsignor black.

The officials presided over an hour-long parade as couple after enrobed couple strolled past at a courtly pace, women in velvet gowns, men in doublets and hose. And the hats! Wide-brimmed hats, round floppy hats, hats with rolled crowns, and hats with plumes. Appreciative applause rippled from spectators standing five deep.

Participants formed lines between the cathedral and the Baptistery, making room for the arriving drummers, trumpeters, pennant-tossers, and banner-carriers in various versions of red and white, the Florentine colors. The military wore silver helmets and crested breastplates; they carried pikes, broadswords and staffs.

A sixty-member schoolgirl choir, all dressed in red tunics, white stockings, and Santa hats, sang seasonal tunes ranging from Venite Adoremus to Jingle Bells while carrying out choreographed hand and arm movements. The soloist had a voice so sweet it made your heart ache.

Cardinal Antonelli spoke to the children about the three magi and their relevance to Epiphany. When he asked what expensive gifts they brought for the Christ Child – an easy question, since the answer had already been given that day in song and story – there was only silence from the children.

Antonelli told them the answer, using a teacher’s patient tone, then asked: What did each of the expensive gifts symbolize? Again, the children were silent. “Gold meant that Christ was King, incense represented his divinity, and myrrh foretold His death on the cross. But the magi also brought something else – their love,” he continued. “Which do you think was the most important gift – love or expensive gifts?” This time, there was no doubt in the children’s minds. Together, they all shouted: “Expensive gifts.” Everyone laughed, even His Eminence.

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