Easter celebrations in Florence reach a crescendo on Sunday at the Duomo. Beginning at 10 a.m. there is a procession along Via Roma of celebrants in medieval costumes that includes drummers, trumpeters and flag-tossers as well as official representatives from the police, church and city. What makes this parade different from the many others throughout the year is the carro, a huge wooden cart that’s about ten meters high and looks Oriental in design. The cart, which is loaded with fireworks, was pulled in the past by two white oxen. In recent years, all the hard work to position the cart strategically between the Baptistery and the Duomo has been done by a farm tractor.
As we watch proceedings from our rooftop terrace high above the crush of the crowd, we drink glasses of bellini and listen to the bells of Giotto’s Campanile. According to legend, this ceremony of the exploding cart celebrates the exploits of Pazzino de’ Pazzi, an eleventh-century Florentine warrior from the First Crusade. As the first man to climb the walls of Jericho he was awarded two pieces of stone from the Holy Sepulcher, the shards of which are still used to start a fire that is carried through the streets to light the fireworks. If all goes well everyone will enjoy good luck and good crops this year.
At precisely 11 a.m., accompanied by more pealing of bells, inside the church the archbishop lights a dove-shaped rocket, the colombina, which is sent flying on a wire out through the church door where it ignites the fireworks on the cart, then immediately turns around and scoots back inside. For the next ten minutes, roman candles, katy wheels, various rockets and screamers bang and howl in red, green, yellow, and blue, soaring as high as the top of the church facade while shimmering silver confetti falls above the heads of the delighted crowd. Small boys wonder why church isn’t like this every week as the good luck flows all around.