I’ve been in Florence for Easter a couple of times, to witness the curious Easter Sunday spectacle of “Lo Scoppio del Carro” – “The Explosion of the Cart”. The origins of the ceremony aren’t quite clear, but they’ve been doing it at least since the 1400s.
In a shrine in Santi Apostoli, they keep three flints, said to have been brought back from the First Crusade, and supposedly chipped from the actual Holy Sepulchre. On Easter Sunday, a candle is lighted from sparks from the flints, and carried in procession to the Duomo, Florence’s cathedral.
In the mean time, a team of white oxen pulls the ornate “cart”, a tall, baroque cabinet on wheels, into the piazza in front of the Duomo. I was impressed by the size of the oxen. If the image in your mind is of something cowlike, replace it with the picture of a huge, two-horned beast bigger than a rhinocerous. Wisely, in light of what is to follow, the oxen are unhitched and led away to safety when the cart is in position.
Without much fuss, Fire Brigade workers attach a “flying wire” to the cart. It’s not very conspicuous, but if you look carefully, you can see that it runs in an upward slope through the open cathedral doors to the interior. At this point, I’d better mention that only the great and the good of Florence get to be inside the Duomo for this important event. Plebs like myself can only watch from outside.
Therefore, I don’t know exactly what occurs inside the church, but in some manner the officiating priest (the Archbishop, I think) uses the light kindled from the holy sparks to ignite a fuse attached to a mechanical dove, which then comes speeding down the wire in kamekaze fashion, sparks streaming from its rear. It strikes the base of the cart, causing it to erupt immediately with firecrackers.
It’s a Sunday morning – full daylight – so fireworks of colours and patterns would not be very conspicuous. The cart therefore shuns those and instead concentrates on sparks and bangs. It’s loud and it goes on and on, like sustained machine gun fire. It felt like at least ten minutes.
So although the event is held in an unambiguously Christian context, there is something primeval about the idea of flashes and bangs as an expression of civic spirituality; and indeed, the Florentines still make the connection of a successful and noisy display to ensuring good luck and a good harvest, if not explictly to driving away evil spirits.