Wandering and Wondering

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Religion in Florence

In a previous post I mentioned that I was going to try and do my final photojournalism project on the muslim mosque that is just down the street from my apartment. Almost 3 weeks into the last half of the semester, however, and I still haven't been able to get a contact in the mosque to ask permission to do the project, so it doesn't look as though I'll be able to go ahead with it. My project will still have something to do with religion, but I haven't really decided on a specific theme yet. In search of inspiration, I've been attending various religious festivities and ceromonies in and around Florence.

On Sunday the 25th of May, Florentines celebrated Annunciation Day in honour of archangel Gabrial's announcement to the Virgin Mary that she would give birth to Jesus. I headed down to the SS Annunziata church just in time to see a parade coming down the street and about to enter inside. Along with other onlookers, I followed them inside to witness a short ceromony in front of a special tribune that was built to house a famous painting of the Annunciation:

Worshipping the Virgin Mary

According to the legend, the artist Bartolomeo was feeling inadequate to the task of painting Mary's image and fell asleep on the scaffolding. Upon awakening he found it finished, and Mary's face has subsequently been attributed to angelic intervention. After the ceremony was finished, the parade left the church and continued on to Piazza del Duomo:

Drummer in the parade

The next big religious celebration in Florence after Annunciation Day was Easter. On Good Friday I headed out to the small hill town of Grassina, 30 minutes by bike from Florence, to watch a historical re-enactment of the Passion of the Christ:

Mourners at the crucifixion of Jesus

At about 9pm people started lining the streets of the town to watch the parade that accompanies the re-enactment. I only got a chance to see the very beginning of the parade before I had to dash off to a hill on the outskirts of town where the actual re-enactment took place. The play started with the annunciation to the Virgin Mary. Following this were various scenes from Jesus' life, such as the sermon on the mound, the trial and conviction by Pontius Pilate, the last supper, and finally the crucifixion itself. It was spoken in Italian, so I couldn't understand all that much, but the imagery was pretty powerful. At the end of the re-enactment, I even got to shake the hand of Jesus himself after he rose from the dead!

The last supper

On Easter Sunday I attended the Scoppio del Carro, or "explosion of the cart", in front on the Duomo in Florence. It was due to start at 11am, and when I arrived at 10.30am the Piazza del Duomo was packed with people:

The crowd awaits the "explosion"

I didn't have my telephoto lens with me, so I didn't manage to get any close-up photos of the cart when the fireworks where set off, but the following photo was taken by bootsintheoven:

The explosion of the cart

Even though the fireworks weren't anything as spectacular as those you'd see on Sydney Harbour on New Year's Eve, it was interesting from the perspective of how different it was to any other fireworks show I've seen and the fact that they've been doing this for hundreds of years. After the fireworks ended, I headed inside the Duomo for the Easter Sunday service:

Easter Sunday Sermon

Kind of like the Pope in the Vatican, the head bishop here in Florence is somewhat of a celebrity, waving to the faithful at the end of the sermon:

Bishop of Florence

Not yet having had my fill of Easter ceremonies, on Sunday evening I caught the train to Prato, 30 minutes from Florence, to witness an interesting ceremony known as the Display of the Holy Girdle. The main church in Prato, Santo Stefano Cathedral, claims to own the Holy Girdle that once belonged to the Virgin Mary. On Easter Sunday every year the bishop of Prato retrieves the girdle from its vault and holds it up for the people to see from a specially built pulpit on the outside of the church:

Holding up the Holy GirdleA crowd gathers

The ceromony ended with a parade through the streets of Prato:

Parade in Prato for the Display of the Holy Girdle

All in all, my easter in Florence was much more religious than any easter I've had back home. I was so busy attending all the festivals and ceremonies that I didn't even get time to eat a single easter egg! Not that easter eggs are any less popular here than they are back home. Indeed, this blog article by bootsintheoven shows a photo of a 250 euro easter egg, so it seems that they do in fact take their easter eggs very seriously here.

Even with the Easter festivities and ceremonies over, it is hard to escape from religion in Florence, and it obviously plays a big part in people's lives here. From most parts of the city you only need to walk a few blocks to get to a magnificant church such as Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella, SS Annunziata or Santo Spirito. And not to forget Santa Maria del Fiore (aka the Duomo), whose huge dome towers over the whole city. As well as the churches, there are also the many small shrines located on street corners, most of which are dedicated to the Virgin Mary such as this one just around the corner from my apartment:

Taking a break to admire a Virgin Mary shrine

The other big religion in Italy apart from Christianity is football, or "calcio" as it is called here. On Sunday the 29th of April I'll be going to a match between the local team, Fiorentina, and Chievo in the Seria A league. Fiorentina also have a home ground match this coming Sunday against arch-rivals Sienna, so I may go to a bar near the stadium to witness the action on the big screen. If I can get some good photos, I may end up doing my photojournalism project as a comparison between the religion of soccer and the religion of Christianity.

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