Discover the history of one of most beloved festivals in Florence

The Explosion of the Cart in Florence: origin and curiosity

The Florentines love fuelling debates and controversies, often accompanied by irony and scathing puns. In the city where the Guelphs and the Ghibellines once rivalled, finding an agreement is a real trick. Nevertheless, there are some traditions that cannot be questioned and that have become part of both Florence and its citizens. Doubtless, one of the most important Easter festivals here is the “Explosion of the Cart”, which takes place on the Duomo square. This tradition, rooted in the venerable past of Florence, is centred on a precious relic, still the star of the procession.

The legend says, that back at the time of the first Crusade in 1099, the noble Florentine captain Pazzino De’ Pazzi was the first one to climb the walls of Jerusalem and to raise the Crusade flag on the city. As prize for his courage, he was given some flints coming from the Holy Sepulchre, which he took back to Florence. The stones were passed down from generation to generation, until the family was banished by the Medici.

The relics were then brought to the Church of the Saint Apostles, where they are still kept safe. On Holy Saturday the stones are used to light the Holy Fire, which is then carried to the Duomo by the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, wearing the Jerusalem cross on the left shoulder of their white cloak.

The procession of the cart, nicknamed “brindellone”, takes places on Sunday morning. The cart, drawn by white oxen, crosses the city with its train of flag throwers and the main city authorities, stopping between the Duomo and the Baptistery. In the Cathedral the Holy Fire, lit with Pazzino’s flints, has been burning from Saturday, and it will trigger the fuse of a small rocket, shaped like a dove and tied to the cart. The dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit, shoots outside amidst sparkles and triggers several firecrackers, leading to a massive explosion of fireworks.

If the dove gets stuck and doesn’t complete its journey, bad luck is looming for the current year. Truth to be told, in Florence it is still remembered the last time when the dove failed its mission: it was 1966, and that year Florence was devastated by a terrible flood.

The final curiosity… the Florentine word “grullo” (simpleton) is related to this very celebration. The Grulli were the peasants who led the oxen, and their slow, sleepy pace made them quite laughable in comparison with the rich audience of the procession. So, the noun “grullo” has grown into meaning someone quite dumb, but in a affectionate way.

The explosion of the cart is not only a famous event, but it gives the key to understand the deep love and tenderness the Florentines have for their city, the only thing they will ever agree upon.

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