2021 Easter Festivities in Florence During Covid


The Explosion of the Cart (Lo Scoppio del Carro) will go ahead as scheduled this year but can only be experienced virtually

Unlike 2020, when all events were canceled, Florence’s Easter traditions–with a creative twist–will take place in 2021 despite the pandemic and the restrictions imposed by the “red zone,” with limitations designed to lower the number of contagions.  The “Scoppio del Carro,” (the Explosion of the Cart), returning to Piazza Duomo on Easter morning in front of the Cathedral, can be watched only starting at 9 am via streaming or TV broadcast beginning at 10:40 on Toscana TV, channel 18.  The traditional Orchestra della Toscana Easter concert, scheduled for Thursday, April 1 and dedicated this year to a timeless masterpiece by Franz Joseph Haydn, will be available through live streaming on the ORT Facebook page or YouTube channel.  The performance will be held at 9 pm in the magnificent refectory of the Basilica di Santa Croce, known for its enormous fresco of ‘The Tree of Life’ painted by Taddeo Gaddi in 1355.  More details below.

Magenta has also compiled a handy guide for residents of Florence who hail from the U.S., Canada, Australia and the U.K. so they can incorporate their Easter home traditions during the festivities, whether culinary or church services in English.  There is info on sweets, treats, chocolate Easter eggs and even where to find white eggs to dye for the Easter basket in the land of brown eggs.  The guide also contains the entire Holy Week schedule at St. Mark’s and St. James in addition to worship and mass in English at Santi Apostoli.

Sunday, April 4:  THE EXPLOSION OF THE CART – Lo Scoppio del Carro. Piazza del Duomo.  11:30 am.

Reflecting mysticism with a touch of magic, every year Florence celebrates Easter with a pyrotechnic spectacle during which a dove flies out of the Duomo and ignites fireworks attached to a huge, gilded cart, called the Brindellone.

Normally hauled by enormous, garlanded white oxen through crowds preceded by a historic pageant, this year the cart will be arrive pulled by a tractor in the early morning hours through the city’s deserted streets.  In contrast to last year, the public is once again welcome to attend the 10:30 Mass in the Cathedral, officiated by Cardinal Betori, but will not be allowed to leave the church during liturgy nor can residents stand outside in the square.  The Scoppio del Carro festivities, however, will go ahead, with the church altar as its usual modern starting point.

As a participant of an 11th century Crusade, Florentine Pazzino de’ Pazzi was the first soldier to scale the walls of Jerusalem and was rewarded with three flint stones from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  Historically, the flints were used to light a sacred flame on Holy Saturday that was brought to Florentine households first by torch, then by cart, symbolizing the return of light during a moment of absolute darkness right before the Resurrection.  Around the 14th century, the Brindellone, an 11 meter (36 ft.) cart decorated with the Pazzi family coat-of-arms, featuring crosses and two dolphins, and rigged with fireworks, substituted the smaller one used in the previous ceremony, and the event was moved to the morning of Easter Sunday.  The Brindellone became the property of the municipality of Florence when the Pazzi family became extinct, in 1859.

An Easter candle, illuminated by one of the three flints from the Holy Sepulcher awarded to Pazzino de’ Pazzi during the 11th century Crusade, is used to light the mechanical dove at around 11 am.  If the bird’s flight down a wire of the central aisle of the church reaches destination and hits the Brindellone, the explosion of color resulting from the fireworks in the Cathedral square is believed to bring good luck to the city and assure a successful harvest.

If the dove misses the target, it is taken as a bad omen. This happened in 1966, the year of the great flood in Florence.  In 2018, two years before the Coronavirus health emergency, the dove set off the firework display but failed to return to the high altar of the Cathedral as it normally does.  (molly hamilton)

Thursday, April 1:  The Orchestra della Toscana will interpret Haydn’s “The Last Seven Words of Christ on the Cross” conducted by the ORT’s artistic director Daniele Rustioni.  The event will reach a virtual audience thanks to streaming on the ORT Facebook page and YouTube channel, where it will remain for a month.

On this occasion between each of the sonatas, the actor Giovanni Scifoni will recite unpublished texts written by the poet and playwright Davide Rondoni. 

 In 1786 Haydn was commissioned to compose a work for the Good Friday service at the Oratorio de la Santa Cueva (Holy Cave Oratory) in Cadiz, Spain. The orchestral version was published in 1787 and then performed in Paris, Rome, Berlin and Vienna. The composer adapted it in 1787 for string quartet, approved a version for solo piano in the same year, and finally adapted it in 1796 as an oratorio (with both solo and choral vocals). The complete work is made up of seven ‘sonata’ slow movements or meditations, each representing a different ‘word’ or state of Christ on the cross. These are framed by the dramatic opening ‘introduction’ and ‘earthquake’ movements. The result was one of Haydn’s proudest achievements (by his own estimation) and is confirmed by the enduring popularity of the work.

Haydn himself explained that he found it incredibly difficult to write the work saying: 

“Some fifteen years ago I was requested by a canon of Cádiz to compose instrumental music on the Seven Last Words of Our Savior On the Cross. It was customary at the Cathedral of Cádiz to produce an oratorio every year during Lent, the effect of the performance being not a little enhanced by the following circumstances. The walls, windows, and pillars of the church were hung with black cloth, and only one large lamp hanging from the centre of the roof broke the solemn darkness. At midday, the doors were closed and the ceremony began. After a short service the bishop ascended the pulpit, pronounced the first of the seven words (or sentences) and delivered a discourse thereon. This ended, he left the pulpit and fell to his knees before the altar. The interval was filled by music. The bishop then in like manner pronounced the second word, then the third, and so on, the orchestra following on the conclusion of each discourse. My composition was subject to these conditions, and it was no easy task to compose seven adagios lasting ten minutes each, and to succeed one another without fatiguing the listeners; indeed, I found it quite impossible to confine myself to the appointed limits.”

Fun fact – The priest who commissioned the work, Don José Sáenz de Santa María paid Haydn in a most unusual way by sending the composer a cake which Haydn discovered was filled with gold coins.  (anne lokken)