Florence: The “Brindellone” goes to town
Tradition has it that it was the Florentine, Pazzino de’Pazzi, who was the first to set foot on the walls of the city and unfurl the crusaders’ banner. For this act of courage, Goffredo di Buglione gave him three splinters of the Holy Sepulchre.
When he returned to Florence on 16th July 1101, the captain was given a hero’s welcome. Historians tell us that after the liberation of Jerusalem, on the day before Easter, the crusaders met in prayer and gave the holy fire to all as a symbol of purification.
This event began the tradition of giving the holy fire to the people at Easter. In fact, after Pazzino’s return, every Holy Saturday, the young went to the Cathedral and lit a small torch from the holy fire and then took the purifying fire around the city.
The holy fire was lit with the sparks from the three splinters of the Holy Sepulchre. After a while, it was decided to transport the holy fire on a cart where the coals glowed on a tripod.
The cart was much simpler than the actual one, but due to the fire and flames that it had to bear, it had to be more or less rebuilt every year. It therefore seemed a good idea to make a more solid one that could last for ever. The large cart was therefore built and though it was restored several times (also after the tragic flooding of 1966), it is still in perfect working order today. The fire is lit by a “dove”, that is none other than a dove-shaped rocket.
The ceremony currently takes place on Easter morning. escorted by 150 soldiers, musicians and flag wavers of “Calcio Storico Fiorentino”, the cart that the Florentines call the “Brindellone” moves from Piazzale del Prato pulled by two white oxen decorated with flowers and reaches Piazza del Duomo, between the Baptistery and the Cathedral.
The oxen are detached and a length of modern iron wire is stretched at a height of about seven metres from a wooden column, located for the event in the middle of the choir, until it reaches the cart. In the meantime, the historical procession starts from the Santi Apostoli church; preceded by the standard of Florence and the flag of the Pazzi family, with priests and authorities, it reaches the Baptistery where the religious service begins.
Then the procession moves to the Cathedral and, at eleven o’clock, singing Gloria in excelsis Deo, the fuse is lit and the dove whistles away to light the crackers and fireworks in the Brindellone. This is how the holy fire, with a deafening roar, is symbolically distributed to the whole city. The massive cart is enveloped in smoke and sparks that no longer seem light but a shower of purple, pink, red, green, white and blue.
The silhouette of the Brindellone disappears in this pattern of colours that slowly, with smoke and deafening explosions, clears away allowing the marble of the Baptistery, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Giotto’s bell tower to be seen again. It’s an unforgettable sight…