Hermann Hesse and the Explosion of the Cart in Florence, on Easter 1901
The Explosion of the Cart is an ancient folk tradition in Florence, with roots that go as far back as the first Crusade.
According to legend, on July 15, 1099, the Florentine Pazzino de’ Pazzi was the fastest of the Crusaders to reach the walls of Jerusalem, where he hoisted the white and red Christian flag. Godfrey of Bouillon, his leader, rewarded him by giving him three stone chips from the Holy Sepulchre. By striking together the fragments – currently kept in the Church of the Holy Apostles – a new Easter fire is sparked.
Then a ceremonial Cart (which the Florentines call “Brindellone”) is led across the city to carry the holy fire. By the end of the 15th century, the custom of loading it with gunpowder had been established. To this day, on Easter morning a rocket shaped like a dove – the “Colombina” – is lit with fire from the three sacred chips, and travels from inside the Duomo to the Cart on a cable, starting a wonderful show.
Hermann Hesse witnessed the ritual in 1901, and wrote, “Sharp at twelve o’clock, the ritual cannon shot started a deafening bell-ringing from all the churches. The ‘dove’ burst flying from the altar of the Cathedral, crossing the space safely and smoothly, bringing the crowd to scream with joy. At that point, the fireworks on the cart began to emit smoke, and all together lit up crackling in a frightening way, accompanied by people’s cheers. The entire square filled with gunpowder smoke. When finally the last flaming pinwheel died out, gradually and with a few jolts, four magnificent, mighty white oxen in red leather harnesses, with golden horns, were yoked to the wagon and led in a dazzling procession, followed by all the people.”
In the same way described by the great German author, every year the Brindellone announces Easter in Florence with fire and light.