A brief history
The Explosion of the Cart dates back to the first Christian Crusade in 1099 when the Florentine Pazzino de’ Pazzi was the first to climb up the walls of Jerusalem. As reward to his bravery he got three flints from the Holy Sepulcher, that he took them back to Florence. These flints were initially used to light the holy fires, torches that Florentines carried around the streets and bring it to all Florence citizens at Eastertide. The three flints are kept in the Church of Santissimi Apostoli in Piazza del Limbo, that was the ancient Cathedral.
This folk tradition assumed the present form at the end of 15th century, when the three flints were used to light a large Easter candle. The large cart, called Brindellone from locals (meaning tall and skinny person) is about 9 meters tall and dates back to 16th century. It departs from Porta al Prato to Piazza Duomo and is hauled by four white oxes together with a costume parade with 150 figures coming first.The cart is loaded with fireworks.
In the meantime in the Church of Santissimi Apostoli the three flints lights the holy fire carried in procession to the Duomo by city officials, clerics and Pazzi family members. At 11 0’clock at the singing of the Gloria in excelsis Deo during Easter Mass, Florence cardinal lights the colombina (a mechanical dove) that speeds through the church to ignite the Brindellone.After lighting the cart and its fireworks the colombina should go back into the Duomo on the High Altar. If it does go back the harvest will be good, but if it doesn’t go back the harvest will be bad. All Florentines look at this event with suspense and their fingers crossed. In fact the last time that colombina didn’t go back into the church was in 1966, when Florence was destroyed by the flood of the Arno.
If you want to see this breathtaking folk tradition in Florence I suggest you go to Piazza Duomo early in the morning, since it will be really crowded. Then you have to decide if you want to stay outside and watch the cart’s explosion or be inside the Duomo and look at the colombina’s journey.