Easter in Florence

This is the day of days. There are dove shaped breads in all the stores; chocolate eggs bigger than the children who will receive them. The celebration started with a massive peal from the campanile on the stroke of midnight. Probably the first Mass began then, for there was another such peal shortly afterward, where the Gloria or the prayer of consecration would have come. We left our hotel after a quick coffee, to get to the Duomo in time for the 9:00 a.m Mass. It was raining. Arriving more than an hour early, we got a pew about the tenth row, but we were surrounded by standees, and soon became virtual standees ourselves.

The west doors opened with the sound of drums and trumpets. Men in Renaissance dress entered carrying halberds and swords, weapons that could have wreaked real havoc. The procession ended with the archbishop, blessing the crowd as he went. Through the doors we could see the famous carretino, two storeys high, gilded and painted, pulled into the piazza by white oxen. This must have been done within the hour, since there had been no sign of it when we arrived. It is loaded with fireworks. Men rigged a wire to it from a pillar about two storeys high in the crossing.

At the Gloria a papier-maché dove with a rocket in its belly traveled with frightful noise down the wire to the carretino, set it alight, and returned. By this time it was exploding with cascades, roman candles, and flash-bombs. This lasts all through the Gloria. There are multiple hymns by the choir. Their mouths move, but nobody can hear them. The congregation is not here for Monteverdi or Bach, and the choir is not here to entertain tourists. The choir addresses God no less, on behalf of worshipers who stand on the pews with full-throated shouting and weeping. The bells of the campanile peal throughout the consecration prayer.

Many parts of the Mass are in Latin, not Italian as I would have expected. The scripture lessons were done in English (first reading), French (second reading), and Italian (the Gospel). The homily was in Italian. At the conclusion, between prayers of thanks and the dismissal, greetings are read to visitors, in Italian, English, German, French, Polish, Hebrew, Chinese, Spanish, and one or two more. Each expresses welcome to the people of the various nations, in the name of the city of Florence. The Episicopal Church’s notions of diversity seem banal.

As the elements were served, there were carabinieri with sidearmsguarding the priests , a reminder that Christianity was never safe. Back in the day, one of the Medici had his throat cut in this church on Easter.

But before I let my admiration run away with me, I should mention the woman we met at lunch the day before, the wife of a carabiniere from Genoa, who had been taught that Protestants do not believe in the Resurrection. At least she asked whether we do. I assured her, Senza la resurrezione non c’è cristianismo. This was news to her. Maybe catholic doubt is projected to Protestants in this superstitious fashion, somewhat as we assign vices to people we don’t know. Today all that seems to be overwhelmed.

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