Elizabeth Wilson Grierson.

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artificially lit up, but it is a very pretty sight. After
the dove has done her work she flies back to the
altar, and it is supposed that on the way in which she
performs her duties depend the chances of a good or
bad harvest.

The origin of this custom was, that long centuries
ago, a member of one of the noble Florentine families
went as a Crusader to the Holy Land, and on his return
he brought a piece of flint from the Holy Sepulchre,
from which, with the aid of a piece of steel, the spark
was struck which lit the Sanctuary lamps in the Cathe-
dral on Easter Even.

For, as you know, in the Roman Catholic Church
there is always a light burning before the altar, and this

Its Surroundings and Festas 87

is only extinguished once a year, from the evening of
Maundy Thursday to Easter Even ; then it is relit.

But other churches in the city wanted to kindle
their Sanctuary lamps from this stone also, so, instead
of carrying the stone all round, which would have taken
a great deal of time, various lamps or lanterns were lit
from the newly-kindled light in the Duomo, and taken
to the other churches in a magnificent wooden car,


richly ornamented, and drawn by two white oxen
decorated with scarlet trappings, and wearing chaplets
of flowers between their horns. Now, however, the
car does not go from church to church : it only conveys
the fireworks to the Duomo, where they are lit in the
manner described.

Then there is the Festa of "Befana," or Epiphany,
when the children have their plates filled by the person
whom we should call Santa Claus, but whom they call
Befana, who is supposed to be an old woman who is
quite black because she lives in the chimney all the
rest of the year, and of whom the little ones stand in
awe. Another Festa is that of San Giovanni, or St. John
(the Baptist), the Patron Saint of the city, which takes
place on June 24th, when the Duomo and Campanile
are beautifully illuminated, and fireworks are set off
from one of the bridges over the Arnq. These fire-
works form the signal for lighting luinurous bonfires,
which have been built on rh-j tops of the hills over-
looking the Valley of the An.o, so that in whatever
direction one looks there is ';*. bja.'.e ot li^ht.

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Later on, on September 7th,'-cbmcs the (i Rificolone,"
or Feast of the Lanterns, which is now observed
principally by children, but which used to be observed
by grown-up people as well. It is celebrated by all

88 Florence

the children going out in the evening when it is dark,
with little lanterns made of coloured paper stretched
over thin strips of cane, which can be bent so as to
take any shape that of a ball, a fish, a bell, a boat,
or a basket. These are carried at the end of wooden
rods, and the children go swinging them up and down,
vying with each other who can show the prettiest
lantern, and singing such rhymes as this :

" Here is a basket ; look to me,
For a better basket you ne'er shall see."

There is just one Festa more that we may mention,
and that is the " Nut Fair " we might almost say
" Nut Fairs," for one is held on every Sunday during
Lent, at a different gate of the city. These fairs are
very much looked forward to, especially by the children,
who save up their money to spend at the stalls which
are erected on either side of the gate, and look quite
gay, draped with bright red and white cotton, and
ornamented with flags and flowers. They are piled up
with hazel-nuts and walnuts, but other things are sold
as well- -oranges, and sweets, and dried fruits of every
description. Then there are portable ovens, in which
stout old country-women bake brigidini cakes made
of aniseed and flour, which are kneaded on a little
table, and the.rr slippe.d into the oven by means of an
iron spade wivh a long handle. Other cakes are sold
as well, and tiny trinjcetF, ;oid when the children go
home in the evening,, the) are laden with many little
trifles dear to their cjhildioh hearts.



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Online LibraryElizabeth Wilson GriersonFlorence → online text (page 7 of 7)