On Easter Sunday every year, Florence celebrates the christian holiday in a very unique way. The Scoppio del Carro, or the “Explosion of the Cart”, dates back over 350 years. An fancy wagon built in 1622 and standing two to three stories high is pulled by a pair of oxen decorated in garlands throughout the streets of Florence to the square between the Baptistry and Cathedral.
This heritage finds its roots in gatherings that are partly historic and partially legendary. A teenage Florentine known as Pazzino, a representative of the respectable Pazzi family, seemingly took part in the First Crusade in the Holy Land in 1099, where he gave ample proof of his courage (he was the first to scale the walls of Jerusalem and lift the Christian banner). When he returned home, he brought back three flints from the Holy Sepulchre that he obtained for his act of courage. This reliquary, today protected in the Church of SS. Apostoli, lies behind the Florentine celebration for the Resurrection of Christ.
Today, the commemoration still carries a strong similarity to the way in which it has been celebrated for generations. Starting around 10am, a priest rubs Pazzino’s three flints together until they spark and ignite the Easter candle light; this, in turn, is used to light some coals which are positioned in a container on the Cart and the procession brings the Holy Fire to the Archbishop of Florence before Santa Maria del Fiore, also known as the Duomo. The cart is followed by drummers, flag throwers and figures fitted in historical costume as well as city officials and clerical representatives.
The Cart, properly rigged with a convenient arsenal of fireworks, then awaits in front of the basilica. From the cathedral’s altar, at around 11 am, when the “Gloria” is chanted inside the church, the Archbishop uses the fire to light a dove–shaped rocket (also known as the “Colombina” and symbolizing the Holy Spirit) and this in turns flies out down a wire to the outside of the church and collides with the Cart in the square, setting off a spectacular firework display to the cheers of all, the Explosion of the Cart arises! If the elaborate ritual goes ahead smoothly and all of the fireworks go off, good luck is guaranteed for a good crop for this year as well as for the city and its citizens – so we hope for a amazing explosion of the cart each Easter!