The eleventh century was a difficult time for Christians in Europe. Muslims had conquered the Levant—a far-reaching geographic region which encompasses modern-day Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and parts of Cyprus, Turkey and Iraq. The Holy Land, that part of the world where Jesus had walked and worked His miracles, was closed to Christians.
Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Komnenos appealed to Pope Urban II, asking for western volunteers to help repel the invading Seljuk Turks. So it was that in November 1096, Pope Urban assembled an army of Roman Catholic knights and peasants from many nations of eastern Europe as Crusaders. The Crusaders traveled by land and sea, first to Constantinople and then on to Jerusalem. The goal of this First Crusade was twofold: to help the Byzantine Emperor to repel the Muslim invasion; and to reclaim the sacred city of Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
The Knights arrived at Jerusalem, launched an assault on the city, and captured it in July 1099. Many of the Muslim inhabitants were killed, and the Crusaders established four new Christian states: the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the County of Tripoli, the Principality of Antioch, and the County of Edessa.
According to tradition, at the end of the First Crusade, the first person who climbed upon the holy wall of the city was a Knight from Florence by the name of Pazzio de’ Pazzi. For his bravery, de’ Pazzi was given three slivers of stone from the holy sepulchre.
After that, on Holy Saturday, the Crusaders lighted a fire by rubbing the three stones from the sepulchre. As a gift, each person was given a bit of the fire as a symbol of purification. The ceremony assumed a religious importance, and believers celebrated this ritual—what came to be called the “Burst of the Cart”—each year during the Easter season.
Since that time, the Burst of the Cart has been associated with the city of Florence, Italy. Each year at Easter, the faithful gather at the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (English: Basilica of St. Mary of the Flower) for the Burst of the Cart. In the modern era, the ceremony has become a beautiful fireworks display.
On Easter morning, a big cart called “Brindellone” is pulled by a team of white oxen through the streets of the city to the Piazza Duomo, the square in front of the basilica. The cart is linked to the main altar of the Duomo by a steel thread; and during the midday Mass, the Cardinal Archbishop lights a rocket shaped like a dove, the Easter “peace” symbol. The lighted dove will travel along the thread until it reaches the Brindellone which—full of fireworks—explodes in a shower of lights and colors.
Legend says that if the little dove fails to reach its destination, there will be a bad harvest that year. Not to worry this year, though—the Brindellone exploded in a gay profusion of lights, colors and sounds.