Rificolona & Nativity of Mary: Florence Festivities

San Miniato video mapping

Friday, Sept. 7:  RIFICOLONA (Paper Lantern Festival).  Various venues in Florence.




History provides the cornerstone, like that placed on September 8, 1296 for Florence’s Cathedral (Duomo) underlying Florence’s annual Rificolona festivities.

In medieval times, Tuscan farmers and shepherds would arrive in Florence on the evening of Sept. 7. Often traveling from the countryside and mountains at night, lanterns (rificolone) provided visibility for their path. The pilgrims would congregate in Piazza Santissima Annunziata (Holy Annunciation square), dedicated to Mary, and after religious observances, hold a market.

Tradition continues today.  Hand in hand with their parents, Florentine children walk through the streets carrying candle-lit paper lanterns (still known as rificolone) when darkness falls on Sept. 7.

Rificolona festivities on Friday in reality start at 3 pm, when a procession will begin to walk to Florence from the sanctuary of Santa Maria dell’Impruneta, one of the most ancient and important shrines dedicated to the Virgin Mary in Tuscany.  The church’s Madonna dell’Impruneta iconic painting, carried to Florence’s Santa Felicita church in medieval times, is believed to have saved the city from the plague.

In commemoration, again this year the procession will stop at Santa Felicita (7:45 pm) before moving to the Piazza Signoria (8: 30 pm) and then to Piazza San Giovanni across from the Baptistery (9 pm).  Illuminated by kids carrying rificolone, it will arrive in Piazza Santissima Annunziata where traditionally the rificolone will be blessed (9:30 pm), followed by a live concert (10 pm).  The church of Santissima Annunziata will remain open to all until 11 pm.

Special events for the Nativity of the Virgin Mary 

The Cathedral Museum (Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, see article in English here) will be open free of charge to residents of Florence from 9 am to 7:30 pm.

This will be followed by a free concert of Renaissance and Baroque music in the Duomo at 9 pm featuring the Concerto Romano ensemble at 9 pm.

Rificolona celebrations continue at the Società Canottieri boat club near Ponte Vecchio (Lungarno Anna Maria de’ Medici 8) where families are invited at 8:30 pm.  Children will go out on boats to place the lighted paper lanterns to float down the Arno River; entertainment and activities will be organized on the river bank.

A live performance will be given by jazz musician Pietro Tonolo, who will play the tenor sax on a raft anchored between Ponte Vecchio and Ponte Santa Trinita, starting at 9:30 pm.  He was part of the Gil Evans Orchestra and the Electric Bebop Band with Paul Motian in the United States.

At San Miniato al Monte, events to commemorate the 1,000 anniversary of the founding of the Romanesque church and Benedictine abbey high on a hill above Florence include a tribute to the Nativity of the Virgin Mary on September 8 and 9.  A show of projection mapping entitled “From the Hill, the Dawn of Light,” which will illuminate the facade at night with patterns of light (see above photo), accompanied by music.

The event is meant to symbolize the world of the divine as reflected on earth.  (rosanna cirigliano)