in 1997, during the year-long celebrations marking the VII Centenary of
the Cathedral's foundation, the Chapter and Foundation ('Opera') of Santa
Maria del Fiore decided to resurrect an ancient Florentine tradition,
the "Cavalcade of the Magi".
The earliest mention of the sodality is found in a document of 1417, the year in which the government of the Florentine Republic decided to underwrite the expenses of "the Confraternity of the Magi, which meets in the Florentine church of San Marco", run by the Dominican fathers. Documents moreover show that, in the golden age of Medici influence, all the family's male components were members of the Confraternity, along with other important citizens having links to the Medici, such as the humanist scholars Cristoforo Landino and Donato Accaiuoli, the poet Luigi Pulci and, in all likelihood, the writer and Cathedral Canon Angelo Politian.
further proof of the veneration which the Medici had for the Magi is the
famed allegorical 'journey' or cavalcade of the Wise Men which Cosimo
de'Medici had painted in fresco in 1459 in the chapel of the family mansion
in Via Larga by the artist Benozzo Gozzoli. In the chapel frescoes numerous
Medici family members are depicted, including Giuliano and probably also
Lorenzo the Magnificent. And when Cosimo withdrew for brief periods to
share the friars' life at San Marco, he was housed in a cell frescoed
by Fra Angelico with The Magi Presenting their Gifts to the Christ Child.
Some years later, in 1482, Marsilio Ficino, a philosopher and Cathedral
Canon closely linked to the Medici, composed a treatise entitled "The
Star of the Magi" (De stella Magorum).
as already stated, every year since 1997, on January 6, Feast of the Epiphany,
the Cavalcade of the Magi again takes place. It starts at the Pitti Palace,
wends its way through Piazza della Signoria and arrives finally in Piazza
del Duomo, in the area between the Cathedral and the Baptistery formerly
known as 'Paradise'.
During the whole Christmas period, up to the Sunday after the Epiphany (the Feast of Jesus' Baptism), another crèche is on display inside the Cathedral. It was constructed by the Opera del Duomo in 1995 with the approval of the Cathedral Chapter, and consists in an architectural structure - an open pavilion inspired by that in Domenico Ghirlandaio's Adoration of the Magi - erected in the central nave of the Cathedral. In this structure are placed eleven terracotta statues derived from sixteenth-century originals by Benedetto and Santi Buglione and modeled in clay by the contemporary Florentine craftsman Carlo Reggioli. At the end of the solemn Midnight Mass at Christmas, the Archbishop, accompanied by the Cathedral clergy, symbolically places the figure of the newborn Redeemer in the manger.
"I make all things new", Christ says in the Book of Revelation
(Rev. 21,5). Fifteenth-century Florentine art often illustrated this truth
by situating the Saviour's birth in the midst of ancient ruins, or - as
in the case of Ghirlandaio's Adoration, mentioned above and on exhibit
at the Foundling Hospital (Spedale degli Innocenti) - in a pavilion or
hut constructed on the ruins of a classical building with elegant pilasters.