The Three Kings and the beginning of the story
The origins of The Ride of the Magi in Florence can be traced to the 15th century when a secular brotherhood devoted to the Magi organized a pageant on the day of Epiphany and paraded on the streets of Florence. On January 6th the catholic church celebrates the Epiphany, originally a Greek word meaning “manifestation” or “striking appearance” referring to the revelation of the divine nature of Jesus, still a baby, to Three Magi (Kings? Astronomers? Philosophers? It still is a mystery!)
The parade took place every 3 or every 5 years, being an exceptional event, and was formed by three different processions reuniting at the Baptistery and ending at Piazza San Marco, where meetings of the group were held.
The Medici got involved
The celebrity of this parade is tied to the Medici family. They were among the outstanding members of the confraternity together with their trusted supporter and allies. The emblem of the Compagnia dei Magi was a six-pointed star, reminescent of the guiding star of the Magi. For this reason the brotherhood was also labelled the Company of the Star.
For the Medici family the parade offered an unparalleled occasion to display wealth and power, as patrons of course but also because the Palazzo Medici was on the route to San Marco.
The preference of the Medici for the three Kings stands out when visiting Palazzo Medici, where Benozzo Gozzoli frescoed the walls of the family chapel with the journey and procession of the Magi. In the Convent of San Marco Cosimo the Elder’s cell has an impressive Adoration of the Magi with exotic and astrological references.
When the Medici were exiled in 1494 the parade was cancelled…until 1997 when the Opera del Duomo decided to reintroduce the procession. On January 6th the participants, dressed like in the Renaissance fresco at Palazzo Medici, gather at the Pitti Palace, cross the Old Bridge and reach the Duomo, ending with a homage in front of the Nativity scene just outside the cathedral.
There is of course a lot more to see and read about the Magi: check the bibliography or ask for a special itinerary, but first and foremost don’t miss the parade! (S.Bonacini)